SEATTLE — Two years ago this past Sunday, NHL Seattle took deposits of $500 and $1,000 from fans for future season tickets, securing 10,000 the first 12 minutes and more than 32,000 over 31 hours.
On Tuesday, the vast majority of depositors finally get to start picking seats as NHL Seattle begins general season-ticket sales. We’re about to find out plenty about NHL Seattle’s ticket pricing approach, as well as just how much local hockey fans will stomach to see the team in person.
No matter how often we tried to brace fans about NHL pricing before October, when higher-end club-level season tickets were released, many fans couldn’t hide their astonishment. Some expressed disbelief on online message boards and even predicted the team would struggle to unload inventory.
Well, they were wrong. NHL Seattle not only sold that inventory, but the success led team officials to organize their general season-ticket release in similar fashion.
Instead of thousands of fans ordering seats through an online portal, the team is now giving the option of coming to their ticket preview center for a guided showroom tour and personalized meeting with a sales representative. Depositors will start getting appointment based on priority list ranking.
But be forewarned: Even those going in on tickets with multiple buddies are likely to find the price much higher than they’re used to locally.
A couple of weeks ago, website Canada Sports Betting published a “Matchday Cost Comparison” study breaking down the major North American professional sports leagues. It looked at ticket prices along with the cost of a beer, soft drink and hot dog at the event.
Not surprisingly, an NFL game was priciest total at an average of $121.76. But the NHL was second highest at $98.17, followed by the NBA at $88.10 and MLB at $50.16.
And here’s the catch: The NFL plays only eight regular-season home games, while the NHL has 41. So, paying for all those games —as season-ticket holders must —quickly becomes a test of the hockey fan’s inner fortitude.
If we break out the ticket portion alone, the study showed NFL fans paying $103.22 per game, while NHL tickets were $77.71, NBA was $67.60 and MLB $34.63.
Spread over an entire regular season, NHL fans lead the bunch in paying $3,186.11 on average for tickets to all 41 home games. It’s $2,805.03 to see all 81 home games in MLB, $2,771.60 for 41 home contests in the NBA and $825.76 for eight in the NFL.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Those prices seem low. Go on StubHub or SeatGeek and you’ll sometimes pay $800 for a single NFL game —never mind a season’s worth.
Also, those paying for NHL Seattle club seats were dishing out four times the study’s average ticket costs.
But remember, those Matchday prices are for an average ticket. And for every NFL success like at CenturyLink Field, there’s a Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati with empty seats.
Same in the NHL, where Chicago Blackhawks tickets average $152.50 while Florida Panthers tickets average just $64.25.
So, this largely depends on where you think NHL Seattle will rank pricing-wise within the league. The recent expansion Vegas Golden Knights sat sixth highest in pricing at $95 on average — the only non-“Original Six” squad in that upper echelon, trailing Chicago, Toronto, the New York Rangers, Boston and Montreal.
It’s not a stretch to envision NHL Seattle averaging right around $100 per game —No. 5 Montreal is at $105 — just like their expansion predecessor. That’s $4,100 per ticket for a full season and $8,200 for a pair.
Throw in the aforementioned beer, soft drink and hot dog and it’s $120.46 per game or $4,938.86 per season on one ticket and $9,877.72 per pair.
But that’s all speculative for now. We’ll know actual pricing soon and whether discounts within season tickets will lower costs below $100 per game.
We’ll also find out whether the team requires multiyear purchase commitments. As we’ve seen, a pair of seats plus concessions averages near $10,000 in the league’s upper echelons and a commitment of three years — as NHL Seattle club seats required — would raise that around the money typically spent on a midsized car.
But hey, KeyArena isn’t paying for itself.
Worth noting from the Matchday study, the six highest-priced NHL teams play in venues built or rebuilt entirely with private money just like those rebuilding KeyArena for $930 million. So yes, users of those facilities will ultimately pay a premium — by choice.
The disparities between some of Seattle’s teams couldn’t be more glaring. NHL Seattle and partners are spending nearly $1 billion to rebuild KeyArena, $80 million for the Northgate Mall training center, $40 million for city transportation upgrades, including the monorail, and other projects.
Meanwhile, the Mariners play in a $517 million stadium 72% financed by taxpayers. Despite this, King County in 2018 approved $135 million in taxpayer money for ballpark upgrades and maintenance instead of the team covering it.
For context, that $135 million would pay for NHL Seattle’s entire practice facility and pledged transportation upgrades.
Going off our town’s history of paying for sports infrastructure, this is the best it’s ever wrung out of a pro team, and it’s not even close. It may go down as one of the more civic-friendly deals in the history of North American sports.
But now, NHL fans must pony up.
And we’re about to find out just how much they love hockey.