Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Demand for the 2011 Winter Classic between the Penguins and Capitals sent secondary market prices skyrocketing to $489 on average, as fans filled standing room-only sections at Heinz Field.
This time around, if you hurry, tickets can be had for $89. Through Ticketmaster, too. All of them even include seats.
It’s only been a half-dozen years, but the NHL’s outdoor market has cooled considerably, several experts said.
And while the Penguins expect over 60,000 fans Feb. 25 against the Flyers — quite possibly a 68,000-plus sellout, among the largest crowds that will have witnessed an outdoor game — it’s hard to avoid the reality that times have changed.
“Some of the gimmick or magic on outdoor ice is gone,” Vanderbilt sports economist John Vrooman said. “The NHL’s outdoor game is admittedly losing some of its fan buzz.”
The problem has occurred because the NHL basically got too big for its britches.
After staging just five games in four years between 2008-11 — starting with the Penguins trucking up to Buffalo to play the Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium — there have been 15 over the past four.
It’s led to an over-saturation of the market, zapping any shred of uniqueness. Stadium Series games have cropped up. The NHL has vacated the original, New Year’s Day Winter Classic date.
All while trying to sell rivalries that are often trumped by mediocre hockey.
“The novelty has worn off,” said John Clark, who’s a professor of sport management at Robert Morris University. “Even if they constrict the number of games going forward, the novelty’s still off.
“Once they overexposed — if that’s what we want to call it — then the concept is done.”
It’s presented a challenge for the Penguins, but one they’ve actually conquered, a credit to some aggressive marketing and interest in the team that remains as high as ever.
“The novelty of a stadium game has taken a hit, but it’s still an event,” Clark said. “The Penguins are still popular here. And while the prices are lower, I’ll bet you it will be well-attended or a flat sellout.”
I’m not going to totally trash the NHL for being a garbage league (which it kind of is). I understand the business side of the decision the league’s making to schedule more outdoor hockey games. These games make money. Lots of it. This is the same reason the NFL has Thursday Night Football games. Those games also make lots of money for the league. The NFL and the NHL (to a lesser degree) don’t always make decisions that make sense to its players or fans, but they do make sense when it comes to increasing revenue.
When the NHL first announced the concept of an annual outdoor game held on New Year’s Day, fans (and players) went apeshit. What better way to bring the game of hockey back to its original roots than to play a game outdoors in front of an even bigger audience. The first few years of the Winter Classic were a huge success. Fans couldn’t get enough of them, and the league took note of it. Soon enough, HBO hopped on board in 2010 with its “24/7” series so they could follow the Penguins and Capitals around before their New Year’s Day showdown. It was a huge accomplishment for the league to convert lots of casual sports fans into hockey fans.
As the momentum of outdoor hockey was accelerating, the league decided to monetize even more off of its success by introducing the Stadium Series in 2014. What better way to make even more money from outdoor hockey than having more outdoor games, right? Well, now fans (and I’m sure most players) don’t give a shit about them. The euphoria of watching hockey outside is fading away fast. The view inside the stadium is horrible, the games are sloppy, and the tickets are way overpriced.
The weather might not be as much of a factor tonight in Pittsburgh as originally thought, but it’s almost a guarantee you’ll see some empty yellow seats tonight. It won’t be Pitt football game bad, but it’s not going to be a sellout either. The reality is, tonight will be the fourth outdoor game for the Penguins, and third for the Flyers, in the past nine years. I would imagine a lot of fans from both of these cities have had the chance to witness outdoor hockey already, and they know it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.