Sunday, 24 June 2018

Ticket price hike won’t help Huskies sell out new rink

    It appears the University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams believe they have a ticket buying public that is dying to see their games like the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos.
    If you plan to see the Huskies hockey teams hit the ice for their inaugural campaign in their brand new rink in Merlis Belsher Place, be prepared to shell out more money.
    Last season in the final campaign at the ancient Rutherford Rink, you could see either Huskies hockey team play for $13 a seat for an adult ticket. Only 845 tickets could be sold for each game in the 88-year-old facility.
    Ticket prices will be more in the Huskies new rink, which will seat 3,437 spectators when it is fully completed. For the first season at Merlis Belsher Place, the seats in the end behind one of the nets won’t be in place.
    Under the current season ticket packages that are being sold for the new facility, the best per game value goes if you purchase a bundle for all men’s and women’s games for $400. For those 28 contests, you will be shelling out about $14.28 per seat per game.
    A regular season ticket to see either just the men’s games or the women’s games is worth $240. For 14 regular season dates, that works out to about $17.14 per seat.
    A VIP club seat to see all the games for either the men’s team or the women’s team is set at $365. For 14 regular season games, that works out to about $26.07 per seat.
    These new per seat prices are creeping up to mirror the pricing in rinks for major junior hockey. They will be on the high end compared to pricing against other hockey teams in U Sports.
    The Huskies new rink also has real luxury box seating and those start at $699 for the season.
    If there is a demand to see a team play, that team has all the power to increase ticket prices. Looking back at last season at the Rutherford Rink, the largest home attendance was listed at 505 for a 2-1 Huskies men’s playoff loss to the University of Calgary Dinos on February 23. The largest home attendance for a women’s game was 389 for a 2-1 Huskies home playoff victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on February 24.
    Both of those figures are well short of selling out Rutherford at $13 a seat for an adult ticket.
    If anyone says ticket sales are going well for the new rink, I would be very skeptical. I will take an “I will believe it when I see it” stance here.
    The realist wouldn’t envision attendances of under 500 per game at the Rutherford translating into crowds of over 3,000 per game with increased pricing at Merlis Belsher Place.
    In recent years at Rutherford, sellouts were limited to playoff games for the men’s hockey team, especially if they were hosting the Canada West Championship series.
    The largest listed crowd to see the Huskies women’s team at Rutherford was 791 spectators on March 1, 2014, when they dropped Game 2 of the Canada West Championship series 2-1 to the University of Regina Cougars in quadruple overtime.
Gritty forward Parker Thomas has been featured on Huskies hockey ads.
    It is believed the largest paid attendance for a female hockey game in Saskatchewan not including contests involving the Canadian national team program was when the Prince Albert Northern Bears drew an estimated 1,200 spectators to the Art Hauser Center in Prince Albert on April 1, 2017. That night, the Bears defeated the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats 7-6 to lock up victory in a female midget AAA Western regional playdown series.
    It is a safe estimate to say at least three out of the eight clubs in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League outdraw the Huskies women’s hockey team and the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team for that matter on a regular basis.
    In another head scratcher move, the initial advertisements for season ticket packages featured Kaitlin Willoughby, who is the now graduated star captain of the Huskies women’s team. In sports marketing, you normally feature players that will be playing for your team in the upcoming season on advertisements unless you are going to have a night to honour a former player or retire their number.
    While covering games in the WHL playoffs, I discussed that with a number of people who worked for teams on that circuit, and they agreed with that observation.
Goalie Jessica Vance has been featured in Huskies hockey ads.
    For the last little while, advertisements for the Huskies hockey teams have often featured gritty forward Parker Thomas, who will enter his fifth season for the men’s team, and star netminder Jessica Vance, who will enter her third season of eligibility with the women’s team.
    There is opportunity for the Huskies to grow their ticket base for their hockey teams. I know I have come across a number of people that said they wouldn’t attend a Huskies hockey game until they moved out of Rutherford, because that facility had numerous deficiencies. To be honest, it is surprising that Rutherford hasn’t been condemned.
    I have come across a number of people who were upset when the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades fired Dean Brockman as head coach, when the Blades regular season wrapped up in March. It is possible those ticket buyers would be interested in going to see another high level hockey product.
    The staff in Huskie Athletics does employ a number of people who used to work on the WHL circuit including Michael Jenkins, Sean Gilchrist, Luke Anderson and Samantha Erhardt. Their presence will help the Huskies sell tickets.
Will the Huskies draw bigger crowds playing in a new rink?
    With that said, it should be noted decisions in universities are often made by committee involving various people in the institution, so that creates the possibility of speed bumps in trying to do anything.
    One thing that can’t be denied is U Sports hockey on the men’s and women’s side is a great product. With that said, even a great product is only worth what a market will pay to see it.

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