Starting with Tuesday night's game against Ottawa, the New Jersey Devils began their season ticket renewal process for the 2015-2016 season. When I got the renewal information in the mail, I did not even question that I would be renewing. Despite the fact that the product on the ice this year has been the worst yet since I have had tickets, the experience of going to the home games still made it worth it. I love having season tickets. I sit in the same spot each night, sit with the same loyal fans that I now know and talk hockey with, and that makes it even better. This is not to mention that watching hockey live is much more enlightening than watching on television.
Then, however, all of that changed at the game against Ottawa. When I got there, I found out from some of the other season ticket holders sitting around me that the new owners were raising ticket prices for next season. I had not even considered that; the team has been playing so poorly, are they really going to charge me more money to watch this product that they put on the ice? I wanted to see how much of a price increase it was going to be, so I got onto my phone and checked the invoice that I received from the team. Sadly, they were right. My invoice had gone up approximately $300 a seat for the season! I was stunned. How could they raise prices when this team has not made the playoffs in three seasons, and has been mostly noncompetitive this year?
None of the season ticket holders that I talked to that evening were particularly happy, as most of them were also seeing a similar increase in price. Some of them mentioned that they were flat out done and were not renewing based on principle. There are two guys who sit two rows behind me who said on Tuesday that they would be renewing given the price increase. Others decided that they would probably renew, but they would be forced to sell more games in order to afford it. For one group that I talk to during intermissions, they mentioned that they would sell their tickets to the rivalry games-Rangers and Flyers specifically-as they generate more money and would help offset the cost. Of course, doing this makes the Rock a bastion for rival fans, but how can you blame the ticket holder?
Then there were those like my friend and I, who felt like they were being priced out of the arena. Paying for 41 games on a teacher's salary, I am already in the third cheapest price bracket at the Rock. To force me to pay more money to sit in the same seat and see this same subpar team on the ice, it really calls into question whether or not I can afford to keep doing this. But the thing is, I was far from the only one who thought that. There were numerous season ticket holders I talked to that night, and have talked to since, who have echoed the same sentiment. John said that for his seat in section 1, his tickets have gone up about $300. Same for a friend I have who sits in section 105, who said his were going up around $300 as well. I sit in section 117, and talk to people scattered between 116 and 120 who all said theirs were rising. Most were rising by around $250-$300, while one fan who sits near the top of 118 mentioned hers were only going up around $100-$150. No one was happy about this, and many questioned renewing based on this unfortunate change of events. While it is early and no one is ready to make any final decisions, there are those considering not renewing simply based on this price increase. Now while I do not have a specific seating map from the Devils that shows how much prices are rising in each section-and there may be some areas that are not seeing price increases-what I have gathered from a week of digging into this is that there are a large portion of ticket holders that are affected by this, and it affects those in all different areas and price brackets within Prudential Center.
Before I delve into more specifics, let me first mention that some of the rising cost is indeed the result of now having to pay the 7% New Jersey sales tax plus a tax for the city of Newark. This would have raised the price regardless, but that is not the only price increase that is taking place. The owners are also raising seat prices on top of that, so ticket holders are seeing an especially high jump in renewal prices for next year.
Now, why would the Devils dare raise season ticket prices in at least some sections of the Rock for 2015-16? From the organization's perspective, could they be trying to meet market value from how the tickets sell on secondary markets? I don't buy that, given my own experience. I attend most home games, but there are nights where I need to sell my tickets. Frankly, I'm almost always taking a loss going through NHL Ticket Exchange between the low prices driven by a crummy hockey team, the commission the site takes, and the parking pass I get with my tickets. And those prices are indeed low; as of Thursday morning, I could get two tickets to Friday's game against Toronto in seats better than mine for much less than what I currently pay. I could try other secondary market sites, but it's arguably cheaper there too since the product on the ice has not been good. So, no, the market value of Devils tickets has not increased this season - recent wins aside - so that cannot surely be a reason for raising prices.
Of course, the real reason why there is any mark-up in prices is that the organization thinks there are enough people willing to pay them. To me, that is an unintelligent business decision even if it is true, simply because the on-ice product does not deserve it. I would be willing to pay more for Devils tickets if the team was playing better. I can justify an increased cost to see, say, a perennial playoff team with strong talent that is enjoyable to watch. The market value would increase, too. If I had to sell my tickets for one reason or another, then it wouldn't be a near-guaranteed loss for me and someone would likely take them. But anyone who has seen this year's Devils knows they're not that good and it's highly unlikely they'll turn it around in 2015-16.
The owners also clearly think there are reasons other than the hockey team that warrant a rise in prices. For this season, they renovated the Rock. They added the 3D light show. They brought in all new concessions. They expanded the Devils Den and merchandise areas. But the thing is, those extras do not get me into my seat. The Devils do. All of that other stuff can be classified as quality side effects that make the experience even better. They are, however, not the experience. The hockey game is, and I should not be paying more for that experience. And if we are on the topic of these renovations, the new food is pretty good, but it is now higher priced, and the higher quality of the food does not meet the higher prices that are being charged in my opinion. The new expanded Devils Den is nice, but the price on most of the clothing and accessories in there is so expensive that I rarely buy anything. I find it at the Devils Den and then purchase it online for less. Plus, gone are the Devils' Dancers, and gone is Rock and Roll Part 2. I'll take both of those back over the higher priced food and the larger Devils Den. In many ways, the new renovations seem to be another way to nickel and dime the customer.
They also are expanding the season ticket holder benefits, which the organization will argue is another reason as to why prices are going up. I can now sell back 5 games that I will not be able to attend, and I will get face value for them (of course, the problem with this is that I need to know which games I will not attend way ahead of time, and I never have plans that far in advance). Also, they plan to have more and expanded events that ticket holders can attend. Those are also nice, and nothing against that, but benefits are side effects. They come alongside and enhance the season ticket experience. I should not feel like I have to pay for them. I am paying for the hockey game that I am watching. The benefits should feel free. However, with these price markups, they do not feel free. In fact, they feel quite expensive.
In the end, I may be totally wrong in my assessment. Perhaps most fans renew their tickets happily and don't question the rise in prices. For me, however, I cannot help but to question it. The reason that I am at the Rock each and every night is to watch my favorite team play hockey. It is not because of the newly renovated stadium. It is not because of the concessions. It is not because of the added season ticket holder benefits. It is because I am a fan of the New Jersey Devils and I want to watch my team play hockey. That is what I am paying for. To raise prices on my tickets to watch that product, however, is simply a bad business move (to put it lightly). I am not the only one to think this either. I have talked to a decent amount of fans this week, between both home games and through online sources, who are similarly upset about this change in events. They are rightly questioning whether or not they are renewing, as am I. The owners should want to create a fan base that is committed to selling out the Rock every night and making it a real home ice advantage. Raising season ticket prices, however, will do the opposite. Yes some fans who do not renew will still buy tickets now and again on the secondary market, but a rise in season ticket prices will almost undoubtedly lead to a rise in single game prices as well. Everyone will be affected in some way, and my bet is that more seats will be empty next season as a result. How is that creating a home ice advantage, and more importantly for the owners, how is that creating a successful business model?
Now, however, I appeal to you. Are you a season ticket holder? If so, where do you sit, and are your prices increasing for the 2015-2016 as well? If you don't mind either, by about how much are they increasing? Will a rise in prices mean that you will reconsider renewing for next season? And just as importantly, if you are not a season ticket holder, what do you think about the Devils raising season ticket prices for many sections in 2015-2016? Please leave your comments on this one, as we here at ILWT definitely want to hear what you have to say. Thank you for reading.