The 2013 NHL Fan Cost Index, which is released annually by Fan Cost Experience, is a computation of the average cost of attending an NHL game, both overall and broken down by team. The last time that there was a lockout, the league returned with lower prices, this time, prices have risen 5.7% a ticket (to $61.01) and 7.9% to take a family of four to a game ($354.82).
Before you shudder at those prices, there are things that you should know about the FCI. From the website:
The FCI comprises the price of four general (not premium) season tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-sized hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two adult-sized caps.
Premium tickets (club seats or tickets with extra amenities as determined by the individual teams) are listed in a separate category.
Basically, it includes things possibly outside of the team's control, such as cost of merchandise, parking, and refreshments. Also, it does not include the cost of all tickets in an overall computation, so the actual average price is higher when you include premium seats.
Still, the raising of prices after a lockout might seem presumptuous of the league. Were they so cocksure that we'd all return? Yes. This time around it was "just" a three-and-a-half month lock-out, whereas the last one cost the entire season. Teams were bending over backwards to lure back angry fans, whereas now teams feel like while they need to do so, they don't need to do it to the extreme that they did in 2005. Also, 5.7% might seem like a lot, but in a ticket that costs $60, it's $3.42. That's well beneath the just noticeable difference that makes a person go "HEY! What gives?" yet it still covers cost increases for a team.
Cost increases? Yes, cost increases. Those have to be taken into consideration before fans become indignant. These costs don't include player payment, but they do include things like running the arena (basic utilities have generally increased in prices), payment of workers, rising local taxes (the Blues have to deal with the St. Louis entertainment tax) and things of the like. No, teams aren't crying poor, but they're doing what every single business across America is doing right now: passing rising costs and taxes on to the consumer. You can't expect a hockey team to not do what the companies who supply and produce your food at the grocery store are doing.
Yes, the average ticket price has increased 50% since the last lockout. The price of a lot of goods and services have, unfortunately. Blues tickets before the last lockout (2003-2004) averaged $42.78, and the FCI was at $248.60. Over the last ten years they have risen to $46.20 and $296.78 respectively. So, in the last decade, the average ticket price has risen a little under $4 and the average FCI has risen $48.18.
That's not bad. I know that the current FCI has the Blues' ticket prices listed as increasing by 11.1%, which is well over the league average of 5.7%. Look at teams like the Washington Capitals (18.1%), the Nashville Predators (18.4%), the Los Angeles Kings (18.2 %). They're all teams that've taken a step back and yet have still hiked up their ticket prices. The Blues took a huge leap forward at the end of last season and have been playing well this year, and have raised their prices by aronnd 7% less. If you'd really like to feel sorry for a fanbase, look at the New York Islanders, whose ticket prices have gone up by an amazing 21.1%.
Of course, these increases are due to teams' success (Kings & Caps) or possibly due to expiring ticket deals. But still, at least the Blues have some sort of justification for a price increase. While covering for the cost of running the team as well as the entertainment tax, the Blues are putting out a quality product for far less than other NHL teams are. They are dead last in team payroll and still are in a playoff position.
"Use that extra money to spend more!" you might say. Well, do you want to put a brand new ownership group in the position of overspending for something that they can get for less, all while trying to undo the mistakes of Dave Checketts' group? Is that wise financial planning? Blowing money and making a quick buck (selling concession and parking rights instead of retaining them, for example) were hallmarks of the previous ownership group.
That's where the total Fan Cost Index can be misleading for the Blues. Concessions and parking are well outside of the control of Tom Stillman and his ownership group, unless he purchases those. The cost of a cap? That's the setting of the price by the manufacturer and to a degree the team store. If the store wants to discount and not make as much of a profit, that's their deal.
Overall, though, when you look at the on-ice product and compare it to other teams while looking at how much the cost of tickets has increased over the last decade, the Blues are getting a good deal. That old saying "you get what you pay for" is true. It's not like the Blues are throwing your good money after bad free agents. No one likes to pay more for a product, but if the product has improved markedly, then it's justifiable.