Monday, March 28, 2011

Luukko speaks as Flyers increase ticket prices

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Daily News

Michael Strulson, a third-generation owner of a set of Flyers season tickets, never thought there would be a day that he would consider not renewing his center-ice seats at the Wells Fargo Center.

That was until Strulson, 39, received a surprising notice in the mail from the Flyers on Saturday.

That's the first time, Strulson said, that he found out the Flyers are instituting a price increase of more than 21 percent for six sections in the lower bowl as part of a wider "rescaling" that will see almost every ticket increase in price next season.

What's worse, he said, is that he had already paid his deposit for next season.

"It's a business, and I know that," Strulson, of Aston, Pa., said yesterday. "I think everyone understands that. But it's just unfortunate. We have a great fan experience. We have fun. They gave me no mention of an increase when I put my deposit down as an 'early bird.' "

Even Comcast-Spectacor president and chief operating officer Peter Luukko acknowledged that some of the increases, especially for fans in the lower bowl, may be "harsh."

"We're rescaling the house," Luukko told the Daily News. "Since the lockout [in 2004-05], we've increased ticket prices just 5 percent. And that's 5 percent as a total for the six seasons, not 5 percent each year.

"The salary cap in the NHL has increased more than 50 percent over the 6 years. We're a top 5 market in the league and we've had the 15th or 16th average ticket price."

According to Team Marketing Report, the Flyers had an average ticket price for this season of $60.89, which is seventh in the NHL.

Strulson spent $79 per game per seat this season for tickets with a face value of $96. Next season, those tickets will increase to $96 for season ticketholders, with a face value closer to $115.

Suddenly, Strulson's season-ticket cost for two seats rocketed from $6,900 to $8,360 - with little notice or explanation. Luukko contends that the timing and manner of notification are standard practices.

"The Flyers know that they have a loyal fanbase, but it's simple economics," Strulson said. "We're in a recession still. For a recreational expense, that's a number that's really hard to justify without hearing why."

The Flyers are one of many NHL teams with increasing ticket prices. In Pittsburgh, where the Penguins opened the new Consol Energy Center this season, fans saw a similar 20 percent spike in prices.

In New York, where $850 million is being spent on renovations for Madison Square Garden, 32 seats will increase 198 percent for next season. Prices for the next 11 percent of seats closest to the ice will be raised 50 percent and the remaining 11,789 seats will increase 10 percent or less.

"It's something that we thought long and hard about," Luukko said. "With the rescaling, some fans may have to move over a section or two to stay at their current price point, but they won't be priced out of the lower bowl."

That's partially true. Previously, every ticket in the lower bowl - regardless of section or row, with the exception of the first row against the glass and those in the Cadillac Grille - was just $79 for season ticketholders.

Next season, just two of the sections in the lower bowl will feature the same $79 price point. Those that are not increasing to $96 - or $193 for the first row or $102 for the Cadillac Grille - will bump to either $85 or $89.

That's still an 8.8 percent increase or 12.6 percent increase for most seats.

In addition, the Flyers are starting a new price point for each row in the upper deck. Each row will have a different price, ranging from $65 in the first row to $37 in Row 15.

"Yes, we increased prices, but we're allowing fans more flexibility," Luukko explained. "Rather than one price, we're changing things around, but we're not pricing anyone out of the building. They just may need to change a section or a row."

Luukko said the Flyers examined prices in the secondary market on websites such as StubHub and Razorgator to determine their pricing.

"For those that were increased 22 percent, those seats are in higher demand than anywhere else in the building," Luukko said. "People fill those seats no matter the game. We think the new price is reasonable compared to the marketplace."

Since Comcast-Spectacor owns both the Flyers and Sixers, Luukko said the Sixers will not be raising ticket prices for next season. Still, some wonder if the Flyers' record profits from last season, according to Forbes magazine - and increases for next season - help stomach money losses by the Sixers.

On the ice, the Flyers have been competitive. After last season's thrilling run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Flyers have held down the top spot in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 4. Off the ice, Forbes said their franchise value increased from $273 million to $301 over the last calendar year.

So, why the hike?

"It's tough," Luukko said. "You can see the renovations that we've made to the arena. We're a team that goes after it every year. It's something that we need to do to keep up and be competitive."
That doesn't make it any easier for Strulson, a self-described "upper-middle class, hard-working fan," to swallow.

"If they're trying to make up for increasing just 5 percent over the last 5 years, I wish they would have just done it 5 percent each year and told us in advance," Strulson said. "That would've been much more palatable.
"I feel like I'm being taken for a ride. I love the team. But they're acting like a team that's won the last 12 Stanley Cups."

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