Pricing fans out at the Memorial Cup

As the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Seth Jones – all expected to be in the top three overall picks at next month’s NHL Entry Draft – wooed fans in Saskatoon at the 2013 Memorial Cup last week, the London Knights announced ticket package prices for next year’s tournament to be held at Budweiser Gardens in London. And with the announcement, the ~7,000 fans that had made a $25 deposit were likely left feeling a sense of sticker shock.

That’s because the 2014 ticket packages will ring in at a cost of $600 and $680, not including applicable surcharges. That’s compared to the $295 ticket package price that Knights’ fans paid when the event was last held in London in 2005. Averaging the 2014 ticket package price at $640 (600+680/2) and you’re looking at a whopping ~115% increase over 2005. That equates to a ~115% increase in nine years with all factors remaining equal (same tournament, same city, and same building). When averaging the ~115% increase out over the nine years, you’re looking at a ~13% increase annually. Considering that the annual inflation rate in Canada has varied between 1% and 3% (give or take a few percentage points) over the last two decades, you’ll notice that there’s a teeny, tiny gap between Memorial Cup ticket package inflation and the rate of inflation for a basket of goods in this country.

If that’s not enough, comparing 2014 Memorial Cup ticket package prices to 2013-14 season ticket prices is as mindboggling. For the upcoming regular season, a London Knights adult season ticket in the general seating sections (upper and lower bowls) at Budweiser Gardens will run you $617 (or $578.25 if you’re an early bird). There are 36 home games in a major junior regular season. That works out to be ~$17 per game ($617/36). For nine games at the 2014 Memorial Cup tournament, you’re looking at an average of $71.11 per game ($640/9). That’s a >400% increase over regular season ticket prices. So not only is your 36-game season ticket package going to run you less than your 9-game Memorial Cup ticket package, you’ll be paying ~$54 more to see the same hometown team in the same hometown barn in the process.

As per an article in The London Free Press, Knights’ governor Trevor Whiffen stated that, “We (the Knights) compared with Saskatoon, Shawinigan, Mississauga – places that held it before.” But Saskatoon may not be the best litmus test. Despite an average of 9,167 fans per game at the 15,000 seat Credit Union Centre during the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament – good for 4th best in Memorial Cup history, it seemed as if ticket prices at this year’s tournament were starting to play a hand in keeping regular fans at home. And that’s with ticket packages ranging from $99 in the upper bowl to $599 for the premium seats – a pricing structure that at least offered a low-cost option to fans and was less than the 2014 ticket package prices. Moreover, who knows how many freebies were dished out.

Obviously, I realize that the cost of operating an event of the Memorial Cup’s magnitude has increased since 2005 – including the increased cost of sports and entertainment in general. And it’s rumored that Mark and Dale Hunter, the owners of the Knights franchise, put up a profit guarantee in the ballpark of $2.5 million for the right to host the 2014 tournament, with any shortfall coming out of their own pocket. Needless to say, there’s risk involved here and ticket sales is a major source of revenue for the Hunters to at least break-even on the venture.

But considering that major junior hockey is an affordable brand of entertainment, the fan demographics include a large number of families. At $71.11 per game for a 2014 Memorial Cup ticket, organizers are essentially taking families out of the equation. This eliminates a significant portion of a major junior team’s regular fan base. How do you fill the gap? That can be a difficult task. So from reviewing the above facts, and erring on the side of commonsense, the numbers are just not sustainable. The Memorial Cup is not professional hockey and the markets and fan bases represent that. I believe that by continuing to push prices higher at an accelerated pace, organizers risk pushing more and more regular fans out and tipping the scales out of their favor.

Adam Puddicombe

Adam Puddicombe is a digital marketing professional who, by day, works in the ad agency world, and by night, covers the intersection of Canadian sports, media, and technology. Adam holds a degree in commerce, with a focus in marketing, and previously worked for Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On! and the St. John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL. Follow him on Twitter @adampuddicombe.