Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tickets! Get yer tickets!

The Columbus Blue Jackets released their 2010-2011 schedule yesterday, and one thing crossed my mind: Pity the poor ticket sales representatives. This is a lousy economic environment to be selling entertainment right now, especially for a team that is not at or near the top of their game.

As background, I was witness on Monday to a ticket sale that I've never seen before in my lifetime. After over ten years of mediocrity in coaching (sometimes not even mediocre, Coach Willingham), recruiting and on-field performance, the University of Notre Dame's football program may have hit rock bottom. The school that has sold out every home game since 1973 apparently is dealing with plummeting season ticket and alumni  demand for tickets, leading to a public sale for all 7 home games.  Only once in my life do I remember just one game went on sale to the general public.  But all seven??  Even scarier for the Irish, you could buy huge blocks of tickets for some games - up to 20 tickets together for some games!  (Oh yeah, ND raised ticket prices this year, too, not the brightest of moves under the Dome.)

I'm most familiar with Notre Dame because I'm an alum and lifelong fan, but I also have learned that ticket demand is dropping like a stone at traditional football schools that are not in the hunt for the BCS championship.  Tennessee (7-6 last year) was holding an open house for people to check out tickets, and Georgia (8-5 last year) is loweing their mandatory donation requirement (in big-time college sports, the ticket price is only a small portion of the total cost to the ticket-holder...there's often a financial donation requirement) by roughly 80 percent against their 2008 high.  Virginia's (3-9) season ticket sales are down 14 percent, and Auburn (8-5, but 3-5 in the SEC) is down 6-7 percent.  These aren't second-tier MAC schools (and I can trash on the MAC as I'm currently enrolled at one of their members schools), these are SEC and ACC schools - big-time schools with big-time programs.  (But a smaller school, San Diego State (4-8 last year), saw season ticket sales drop by 32 percent over the past four years, even with one-third of their season tickets coming from a "kids season ticket" program at a whopping $5/game.)

And it's not just college football. In the NBA, the somewhat-recent (2004) champion Detroit Pistons (27-55 last season) sliced their season ticket prices between 10 to 50 percent.  In Major League Baseball, the New York Mets' (40-30 this season so far, but 70-92 last season) season ticket sales are down 40 percent and total ticket sales are down by 18 percent.

As for the NHL, the Ottawa Senators have slashed their ticket prices to get more butts in the seats (and bellies at the concession stands, not to mention cars in the parking lots).  That's perhaps the most scary in my mind, as the Senators were actually decent last year, with a 44-32-6 record and a 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  If Ottawa has to take drastic measures to keep fans going through the turnstiles, that doesn't bode well.  (But is that a reflection on the NHL, the Canadian economy, the Sens fans' expectations...or something else?  Got just isn't good, though.)

And then there are the Columbus Blue Jackets.  With a 32-35-15 record last year and a 14th place finish in the Western Conference, we all know that they took a step backward after their 2008-2009 playoff appearance.  One can only imagine what's happened to the season ticket base for the Jackets since Doug MacLean frittered away the initial wave of enthusiasm for NHL hockey in Columbus, to be partially recovered by Mike Priest and Scott Howson with the playoff run but then smashed into the brick wall that was the 2009-2010 season.  But this post isn't about looking backward, it's about looking forward.

After a few seasons of sharing a season ticket package with some acquaintances (and only getting to 4 games a year), I'm out on my own this year and will be buying my first ticket package by myself.  I will be going to six games this year  after Mrs. DBJ and I talked long and hard about what we wanted to do.  Like many Americans, we're not necessarily better off financially than we were a couple of years ago.  The circumstances around why that is the case aren't too relevant to this post, but the conversation that we had about buying tickets considering those circumstances is.

What we decided was this: John McConnell and his partners stuck their necks (and a lot more, it now appears) out to bring major league sports to Columbus, Ohio.  And sports, like any entertainment programming, requires that entrepreneurial spirit...but it also requires that the community reciprocate and actively take part.  Because, if no one buys tickets, the team won't be here.  Period.

But that's the negative view.  The positive view is that the Blue Jackets DO have competent leadership now, and that last season was a somewhat-calculated necessary step back to experience the necessary growing pains that will ensure a longer-term run of success.  And that is worth supporting this team - this unique and distinct community asset - through the purchase of tickets.  Hell, it's worth supporting to see a young team take the elevator ride to the top.

But it only happens if you - the Columbus Blue Jackets fan - actually open your wallet and buy tickets.  We all love the Giant Eagle-Pepsi promotions or the free tickets that you can get from taking part in the Columbus Library's Summer Reading Program, but it's the actual outlay of money from you to the team that makes the whole thing work.  And, after all the garbage that we've put up with as CBJ fans, don't you want to see the program finally work like a professional NHL team should?

So let me close by suggesting this: Consider buying a ticket package.  The Blue Jackets have 4 different 6-game packages.  They have 5 different 10-game packages.  They have 20-game packages.  They sell season tickets for all 40-odd games.  You can get in for as low as $123.00 per person  for a 6-game pack.  And you can see some great, exciting hockey.  You can pick your seats.  And you're carving out time for you, and your friends or family, to have some terrific shared experiences.  Lord knows I'm looking forward to taking the Dark Blue Toddler to his first Jackets games this year as part of my new package!

Lastly, the Blue Jackets have a team of great ticket sales representatives.  You can chat with them online through the team's website or meet them, face-to-face, at Friday's draft party.  And don't be afraid to lean on them for help.  I've been tremendously impressed with how they've bent over to help me make the jump from hanger-on with someone else's package to owner of my own.  My rep has done everything but buy me a hot dog on the concourse to get me in position to get the tickets I want.  I can't ask for more.

2010-2011 is going to be a better year for Columbus Blue Jackets hockey.  I am 100% convinced of it.  And I'm going to witness it live.  It's gonna be real, real good.

Carry The Flag!

1 comment:

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