Friday, May 09, 2008

The end of Hockeytown?

I don't know if those tickets weren't sold (bad) or just not used (worse). I know only that if the Wings win seven more games, if they capture the Cup, if they keep up this excellence and they do it with this many empty seats, we don't deserve the name Hockeytown. And it'll be our loss.
There were apparently more than 20,000 tickets sold to last night's game, so those empty red seats were likely no-shows — or the team was papering the house.

Either way, it's the continuation of a problem that started in last year's postseason, when an 11-year sellout streak ended. Those in Michigan blame the economy, and that's understanable.

The reality is, however, that there are very, very few markets in the NHL where the conference finals wouldn't be completely packed to the rafters. Tampa Bay managed to sell out every playoff game in its Stanley Cup run, and I imagine even a market like Nashville, which had terrific crowds in the first round, would have no problem filling the building at this point in the postseason.

My guess is Dallas will fill its rink to capacity when the series shifts to Game 3 in Texas, Pittsburgh has sold out every game this season and things in Philadelphia are starting to really heat up in terms of sales and TV viewers.

It makes you wonder just where "Hockeytown" fits in as an American hockey market these days, and if the team has priced its cash-strapped fans out of the building.

UPDATE Here's a look at playoff ticket prices in Detroit. For the conference finals, the cheapest ticket is $70-75, which is down from $99 last season.

Upper bowl tickets, like the one I bought for a game against Phoenix in January, go from $44 in the regular season to $90-100 in this round, while lower bowl seats range from $180 to $215.

UPDATE The fans in Detroit are angry:
The bottom line is this: Olympia has taken the fans for granted for far, far too long. From the arrogance of the ticket office to the clinging of the Hockeytown tag line long after it’s grown stale, to the in game presentation that hasn’t been revised since the mid 90s to the fact that the Wings have done absolutely nothing to improve Joe Louis Arena.
The comments on Albom's story fill in the rest of the details.

And here's a look at the unemployment rates in Michigan for the uninitiated. The state has the highest rates in the U.S.

UPDATE A rough idea of ticket prices in markets in the conference finals:

Dallas: $140-300 lower bowl; $60-160 upper bowl
Pittsburgh: $140-215 lower bowl; $57-129 upper bowl
Philadelphia: $200-300 lower bowl; $50-100 upper bowl
Detroit: $180-215 lower bowl; $70-140 upper bowl
.

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15 Comments:

At 1:11 PM, May 09, 2008, Anonymous Chris said...

James,

There were some no shows in the 200 dollar a seat section, all of which were seats owned by corporations. Hockey is still number one in Michigan.

 
At 1:12 PM, May 09, 2008, Anonymous Chris said...

In addition, Mitch is a once great, now terrible writer. There is plently of indication that he wasn't even at the game.

 
At 1:17 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger Tim said...

How does being there apply to Mitch's article? I wasn't at the game, but saw plenty of empties on TV. He's making a pretty valid point in the article, whether he filled one of the empty seats or not is immaterial.

 
At 1:37 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger Paul Nicholson said...

I know it isn't entirely his fault, but as a Preds fan i have to say: welcome to Steve Violetta's world. He takes fans and businesses for granted.

My advice: dump him asap.

 
At 2:04 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger Nick said...

Truly this subject has been beat to death.

Poor economy, crappy arena, other sports teams in Detroit doing much better recently, large blocks of seats held by companies that don't get used for whatever reason (My uncle's company in southern indiana used to have season tickets, I wonder how often those were empty), Yzerman's departure, people with disposable income moving away from the city... pick your favorite reason...

Also, Mitch Albom sucks.

 
At 2:26 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

My favourite reason? Because superfan Nick moved to Texas.

:-)

 
At 2:30 PM, May 09, 2008, Anonymous Jen said...

Actually, the cheapest seats for this round in Dallas are $30, they just sold insanely fast!

 
At 2:46 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger Nick said...

Seriously, that might have something to do with it. The last time I was in Detroit I dragged around 25 people out to Joe Louis.

 
At 9:52 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger Hallock said...

I've lived in the Metro-Detroit area, grew up seeing the Wings win back to back cups and what it was like in many cities.

When they won again in 2002, something was markedly different in the city's demeanor. Maybe others don't feel the same about this as I do, but it felt like no one paid attention during the season, then partied in the playoffs like they were expected to win.

There is a high expectation every year, if we don't win the cup it's a failure. The first round losses around that time did a lot to damage people's faith, and the lock-out furthered its distancing. Combine that with the fact the Pistons came very successful, and then did the Tigers, you can see why hockey here was humbled a few pegs, especially when it is hard to find on TV.

In spite of this, ticket prices still remain like there is a high demand. It's also popular for companies in the area to own large chunks of the lower bowl.

When I watched the game last night, the first thing I said to my friend was, "Look at all those empty seats around the bored." It looked bad, but the underlying problems of why those seats are empty is even worse. I think it's unfair for Albom to criticize fans.

In my life, I've been to just two Red Wings games due to prices. One of which I was the guest of a friend who's father works for Miller, they own about 25 seats in the lower bowl and three suites upstairs.

I'd say it's a mutual problem between fans and the management. As difficult for me as it is to swallow, I do not believe we are the epicenter of hockey like we used to be. I actually get jealous when I watch Penguins games, the way the fans support their team.

On T.V., Joe Louis Arena seems so quiet, when the Wings are down a goal the fans are just dead, unwilling to cheer when behind. It's not always the case, but it seems to be most of the time.

It's a shame, we have such an amazing team, some players with a lot of class (e.g., Lidstrom, Osgood, etc.), with fantastic management and coaching--which is difficult to pay for.

 
At 10:45 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger PDO said...

Is it just me, or does it seem absolutely pathetic that people are actually complaining....


....wait for it....


....wait for it....

That the team is focusing on the ON I CE product, and is delivering one of the best teams in the league year in and year out.

Christ. Most cities would kill for that, and instead people in Detroit complain because, while the team is kicking everyone's ass, the in-game presentation sucks?

Who gives a shit.

Seriously.

 
At 12:35 AM, May 10, 2008, Blogger auxlepli said...

Every time I've been to a game at the Joe it rocks - whether the Red Wings win or lose. I don't care about in-game presentations when there's a winning team on the ice, a Molson Canadian in my hand, and I'm surrounded by knowledgeable hockey fans.
There's the People Mover, a parking deck and lots of shuttles to and from JLA to bars, casinos, hotels and heck another country! The sightlines are the best of any NHL arena where I've attended a game.
It's old but that doesn't necessarily make it bad.
The only bad thing about the Joe is the restroom situation. It takes some planning to make it to the restroom and back to your seat so you don't miss a minute of the game.
That's not enough to keep me from games; it's the six-hour drive.
As far as Mitch Albom is concerned - he wrote what he did to incite a fan base, stir things up, and sell more newspapers. That's all. It's a put on so freep.com can garner more hits. There's a name for that - yellow journalism.
In the past 2.5 years in the regular seasons he's probably only written two hockey or Red Wing related articles. Granted, he writes a bit more frequently in the post-season, but I don't think he should be calling out Hockeytown fans when he's not there figuratively or literally.
He should just stick to writing sentimental, nostalgic pablum or chattng on his radio show, Oprah, or the four-letter network.

 
At 12:44 PM, May 10, 2008, Anonymous Jennifer said...

I wonder how many people realize how many Wings fans have had to leave the state to find employment. It kills me to not be able to go see the team I love so much. But I had to find meaningful employment elsewhere. And I'm sure I'm not alone. I do my best to see the Wings when they come to a city close to me, but I can't make it home to Detroit very often. It's amazing going to Columbus when the Wings play there. It's almost like a home game because of all the Wings fans.

But the folks that I know that are still in Michigan are facing some incredibly hard times right now. Do you spend hundreds of dollars to go see the Wings play or do you pay your house payment. It's just not an option. My dad works for a supplier for GM and we're hoping beyond hope that GM doesn't completely collapse before he gets to retire because my mom is a breast cancer survivor and they would be complete screwed without his health insurance. I wonder if Mitch Albom or all the media naysayers are facing that kind of situation? Probably not.

Oh, and those lower bowl seats that go empty? Most are held by corporate season ticket holders and when those guys do go the games they hang out down in the Olympia Room schmoozing and boozing rather than sitting in their seats.

The fact of the matter is, the average person in Michigan is doing all they can to just get by. And so many of us have had to completely leave the state. Wings fans are still as diehard as ever, but the reality is that times are hard.

 
At 4:56 AM, May 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

^ Jennifer

So many fans have moved away.
I'm a Wings fan in San Francisco. BIG Wings contingent here. Adding TV ratings & ticket sales when they play out of town into this argument, especially in places like Phoenix, Dallas, Nashville, Carolina, Chicago & Columbus would be interesting.

I like to think that "Hockeytown" is every town the Wings come into and completely dominate.

 
At 10:04 AM, May 11, 2008, Blogger James said...

I, too, am a fan that had to move away for employment. Michigan has a large amount of people leaving the state because of how bad it is up there. It's horrible, but it does also explain the huge number of "transplant" fans for the Red Wing that are out there now.

 
At 8:21 PM, May 11, 2008, Blogger Michelle said...

I read an article elsewhere that commented the border crossing between Windsor/Detroit has become too much of a hassle with the need for passports. Maybe not as many Canadians are making the trip anymore, and that's hurt a percentage of the Wings ticket sales?

 

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