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  • Minnesota Wild ticket and concession prices need an overhaul


    Sports are weird. Fans spend loads of money to be entertained by other men and women performing in athletics in the hopes that one day their favorite team or individual representing their territory is named a champion of said athletic venture.

    It’s not what people are willing to pay. It’s about what they have to pay. The cost for attending games is limiting the opportunities for families with kids. Teams, for the sake of the bottom line, are hurting their own chances to turn on new fans to their game. It’s not the nickel and dime of attending sports events, but the $20 here, $75 there that strains the bank accounts of families and college students alike. Prices of the items inside the stadium need an overhaul.

    Hooking Fans Early

    Sports, unlike retail brands, must get creative to earn your dollar. Fandom is often passed down by our parents or other influential persons in our lives. Ask most fans today and they’ll likely recite a story from the time their dad or mom piled them in the car to bring them to a game to watch the Vikings at Met Stadium, the Bulls at Chicago Stadium, head to Madison Square Garden to watch the Rangers, and so on and so forth. The field had the greenest grass, freshly mowed. The ice was the whitest white you’d ever seen and so pristine that you swore the players were skating on a mirror. The lights and sounds captivated you while you couldn’t believe just how big the players actually were in real life.

    Not all fans come to sports in their youth, but the vast majority have had that experience early in life that hooked them forever. And just like tobacco companies knew that hooking youth on their product would result in a lifetime customer, sports can create lifetime fans at an impressionable, young age.

    That’s the fact of which local sport franchises must be cognizant. More and more families are getting priced out of exposing kids to the game day experience. With ticket prices and concessions on the rise, the convenience and low-cost alternative of staying home to take in the games on television is far more attractive than experiencing the game in person.

    The Gophers' Blunder

    In a strange move by the Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial board, they published an article damn near pleading for fans to buy tickets and support the University of Minnesota athletics. Gopher sports revenue from ticket sales dropped by $8 million. That’s staggering, and part of a wider trend across the sports landscape in college athletics.

    The Gophers’ problem likely stems from the men’s basketball and football teams largely being mediocre teams, but that’s not the case with Gopher men’s hockey. The Gopher hockey team has won. Over the last 7 seasons, the Gophers have finished with the conference title in 6 of those seasons going back to the days on the WCHA. The attendance problem with Gopher hockey hasn’t been for a lack of winning. There’s soreness because of the move to the Big Ten hockey conference and away from the in-state rivals. While the parity of the NCHC may be stronger top to bottom in the conference, the Big Ten has featured plenty of teams in the NCAA Tournament and Frozen Four.

    So if the conference is competitive, featuring good teams every night, why is attendance still down?

    In a very controversial move, former Athletic Director Norwood Teague hiked the ticket prices to all venues. In a market that contains all four major men’s professional leagues, top women’s basketball and hockey leagues in the country, and even professional soccer, the price hike to college athletics hurt attendance badly. So while the lack of winning in football and basketball - college athletics’ top money producing sports in the country - has kept the students away, the price hikes on the University’s already aging alumni fanbase is killing the already low disposable incomes of retirees.

    For hockey, the U of M used to be the destination of choice for many of the state’s top recruits. Having the top program in the state of Minnesota afforded the hockey program a chance to pick the cream of the crop of that year’s recruits because everyone wanted to be a Gopher. However, the landscape has changed. It would behoove the University to get the youth interested in their programs again, and unfortunately for them, you can’t just market it to death.

    Are Millennials Killing Sports?

    There are articles upon articles declaring the death of many institutions - like that of cereal, marriage, and gyms - by Millennials. If you’re of a certain age, something you like is probably disappearing because of the younger generation. Sports might be the one thing that can be Millennial-proof... But that might not last.

    A major factor in the death of any of the staples previously described revolves around disposable income. The job market is ever-competitive, as the American worker is working, on average, 4 years longer than they were 20 years ago. Couple that with the rising costs of living, student loans, and the reason ticket sales are falling comes clearly into view. Younger generations simply can’t afford to spend the money necessary to go to games.

    How do you get patrons through the door? The answer is obvious - make it so families, younger fans, and retirees can afford to show up.

    The Wild Need an Overhaul

    The Minnesota Wild aren’t hurting for attendance. At least not yet. In the past 5 years, the Wild attendance at Xcel Energy Center has routinely been among the top ten of the league. When you look at their numbers stacked up against capacity, the Wild top 106 percent in 4 of the five seasons, with the one outlier coming in at 103 percent of capacity. That season was before seating changes at Xcel Energy Center increased the max capacity from 18,064 to 18,300 in 2012.

    While other teams in this market, like the Twins, do have a family section and sell ticket packs geared towards the family, the Wild only has a ticket pack that offers an upper-level seat, a hot dog, chips, and soda at a discounted rate of $40.00 per ticket, limit up to four. If you do the math, that’s already $160, sans the ticket processing fees, and parking. The cost on just getting in the gate is already north of $200 for a family of four.

    For college students, they get the privilege of standing on the rail in SRO fashion for the price of $49.50 with a valid college ID. It’s tough to imagine the college kids that aren’t supported by Mom and Dad are able to afford $50 for a ticket that doesn’t even offer a seat.

    Ok, so what if we sucked it up, gave the owners the gate, forked over the outrageous ticket processing fees, and went to a game, either on a family ticket pack or not. After all, ticket revenue directly contributes to Hockey-related revenue among other things that include TV re-transmission agreements, jersey sales, and advertising. So, fine, we like our favorite players, and want the team to keep them, so let’s give the owners the gate so they can pay Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, and Matt Dumba.

    What if franchises gave us some sort of respite on the pocketbook by lowering the prices of concessions? Some teams are doing just that.

    Organizations Spurring Change

    There are some sports franchises that have listened to their fans and have figured out a way to lower the cost of some of the fare inside the building. The idea is simple: lowering concession prices leads to more concessions sold and increases revenue. At least that’s what happened with the Atlanta Falcons after opening their shiny, new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Falcons owner Arthur A. Blank’s new playground took a radical approach to concessions to buck the trend seen across the sports entertainment landscape.

    He installed a value menu.

    The team saw an increase in fan spending by an average of 16 percent. The Falcons didn’t see the concession dilemma as a zero-sum equation. They didn’t sacrifice the high-end boutique food and beer stands to cheapen their product. They just lowered the prices of some common items, ones where the profit margins were astronomical - like soda and hot dogs - and gave patrons a break. Sure enough, fans responded.

    Other organizations took notice. This past July, Mississppi State Athletic Director John Cohen announced that at all of the University’s sports venues, there would be price reductions on concessions, some of those prices slashed by nearly half.

    Giving Fans a Break

    It seems like basic economics. If you lower the price, people will be willing to buy more of the products. Take beer, for instance. A souvenir cup of Michelob Golden Light - hardly a premium craft libation - can run you $10-$12. A bar just down the block on West 7th in Downtown St. Paul could sell that same beer for $7 on a 2-for-1 deal. Head out of town past the outer ring suburbs, and that beer costs you a whopping $2.25 for a pint. Plainly put, the Wild are gouging you on beer that doesn’t hold its value outside the stadium.

    In fact, the Wild are among the highest in the NHL when it comes to beer prices. According to the website Statista.com, the Wild were third highest in the NHL in 2014-15. There hasn’t been any reduction in price since then, so you can bet that the Wild are still pretty high on this list.

    The teams ahead of the Wild? Oh just both New York teams where one would expect everything to be expensive solely based on the market. It’s one thing to try and foster an environment where people are being responsible and in control of their drinking, but another to be so expensive that having more than one beer during the game is hardly palatable for the average fan.

    Maybe the Wild’s food service contractor Levy Restaurants can’t cut prices that low? Maybe this whole idea is all for naught because the logistics and cost to the company would put them under? Remember that article about the Falcons installing a value menu? The food service contractor at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the same Levy Restaurants that you see handling your concessions at Xcel Energy Center. It’s not just possible for the Wild to help the average family of four going to a game by lowering prices on hot dogs and soda, but the one company that has mastered it is their food service partner!

    Minnesota fans are nothing if they aren’t frugal. A ticket price hike at the University of Minnesota with the intent to “increase competitiveness,” was enough to chap Gopher fans’ hind-quarters enough that a local paper had to plead for fans to buy tickets. The money spent on apparel, memorabilia, concessions, parking, and tickets for a single game all adds up to a small fortune. To plead for fans to buy tickets and support the team, one that continues to raise prices around the arena as incomes stagnate, is not just in poor taste, but it’s flat-out price gouging.

    It’s pricing families out of attending games with any regularity. For an industry that needs to nurture those game-day experiences for kids, pricing out families does the exact opposite. Sure, there’s outlets to catch a game on the television or radio. But by not getting their dollars in the door early, those kids grow up not placing a priority on attending games as adults.

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