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Free Food And Ticket Price Increases

Principal owner David Checketts and President of Hockey Operations John Davidson.
Principal owner David Checketts and President of Hockey Operations John Davidson.

[This article originally appeared in the Mar. 21 edition of St. Louis Game Time.]


It’s not often that you’ll find me defending corporate big-wigs. I haven’t worked for a big corporation in my adult life and I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about them.

That said, I’m a big fan of the big-time corporate owners of our franchise. I’ve heard enough about how they operate and how they work and the struggles that they’re up against that I’m rooting for their success. I don’t tend to have empathy for the super-rich, but the group that is in charge of the Blues seem to be in this for the right reasons. Sure they want to make money, but they really do seem focused on winning a championship and building a legacy in St. Louis. My guess is that they would love to replicate what has happened in Detroit, where success is expected

Unfortunately for them, they’ve had to start at the bottom with this team and fan base. They had to go above and beyond to get our attention. They had to do things that no other franchise would do to bring fans back to the game.

They had to spoil us. And now it’s coming back to bite them.

Today’s Free Food game is a prime example. We will no doubt be treated to a hot dog/chicken strips option as well as a bag of popcorn and a drink. We will no doubt have to stand in a long line to get it. We will no doubt then go to our seats and complain about it.

The problem is not in what we’re getting, because on any other given night if the Blues had handed us this all in a bag as we came through the turnstiles, we’d have been pleasantly surprised and appreciative. "Wow, that was unexpected!" we’d gush to one another as we shoveled it into our gaping maws.

The problem comes in that the Blues did way better than that in their first year. The Free Food game was a brand-new gimmick and no one had any idea how it was going to go. That day the Blues made most of the items on the menu all-you-can-eat and many of us tried. As one of my buddies reminisced yesterday, he sat in his seat groaning because he’d overdone it. That year there was so much free food that the vendors were giving people extra portions. "Take two," they’d say. So we’d take two. The scalpers and panhandlers outside the rink have never eaten as well as they did that day. It was a food fiasco.

The next year it was scaled back. The year after that, even more so. Last year I came in at my normal late time and I got a bottle of water, a half a bag of popcorn and an apology. This year I expect to get in a little earlier and to get a chicken finger or two. And I’m not going to complain about it. It’s free, after all. Maybe it’s not the full-on bloatfest of earlier years, but I get it. The owners went over the top with Free Food day in Year One. They sold out like three games that year and that day was one of them.

Now, of course, the team is doing better and attendance is better. And Free Gorgefest is worse. But it’s still better than nothing. I accept that. I understand that. I’m happy to take my free semi-cold chicken fingers, pretend they haven’t been touched by like six people and just eat them.

I have to make myself look at this from the owners’ perspective. The first attempt was new and groundbreaking and widely copied. It was also probably way expensive. The way it’s done now is cheaper for them and it’s still a bonus for me. I need to remember that.

I mean, I like these owners. They seem to be trying to do the right thing by the team and the city and the fans. I want them to stick around for a while and follow through on their promise to parade the Cup down Market Street. If passing on the WAHOO! Free Food Day for a Hey, It’s Better Than Nothing Free Food Day, I’ll do it.

Similarly, I’ve heard all the complaining about the coming ticket price increase. Personally, I never received my season ticket renewal package and I don’t know if that’s because my mail sucks or because the Blues have finally figured out which guy I am and put the kibosh on sending my renewal, but I’ve heard enough to know what I think about it.

As Chris Gift specifically broke out in the example in his column last week, I’m a guy in the cheap seats. My tickets used to cost $7 apiece. Then they went to $8. Then $10. Next year they’re supposed to be $16. Relatively speaking, that’s a huge jump. I used to brag to my non-St. Louis hockey friends that my two season tickets cost me $616. A guy from Canada once asked me if they were obstructed view seats because he couldn’t get into a junior hockey game for that amount. Instead of the hideable-from-the-wife-$880 that those same seats cost me this year, next year I’ll have to spill out $1,440.

I’ll be honest, I’m not terribly excited about that. That is a big jump for me for strickly entertainment dollars. I can’t imagine what the change is for someone with good seats.

But I’m going to pay it. The fact of the matter is that, like the Free Food Game, the Blues spoiled me by being a little too generous up front. If I’m honest with myself, my tickets never should have cost $7 a game. That’s simply a ridiculous number, even considering how bad the team was back then. It was still pro hockey. Honestly, even $10 a seat was a really good deal.

I know that the ownership has been working at a deficit with this team. I also know enough about business to know that they can’t continue to do so for much longer. Ownership can either raise prices to make ends meet or they can change the makeup of the team to make ends meet. Would you rather pay more to come see them as they build this team or would you rather have them decide to either: 1) Go Kansas City baseball and forever keep the team a low salaried minor league-level talent feeder to the rest of the NHL or 2) Trade off youth in a win-now mode to get to the playoffs where they can actually make some profit and pay their bills.

Personally, I’d rather see this ownership group stick around and continue to do things the right way with this franchise. If that means that I have to either pay more to see it live or I have to scale back and watch more games on TV then I’ll do that. I want my team to win. Apparently I’ll have to sacrifice more than I’d wanted to if I want to see that happen. So be it.

Just like Free Food Day, I’ll just suck it up a little more. One less hot dog, a little more for my tickets, whatever. If it all results in a stable ownership group, a properly built team, a stronger franchise and a Stanley Cup, it’ll all be worth it.

-Sean "seriously? Not one more chicken strip?" Gallagher