OTTAWA - Dear Mr. Bettman ... or, if you prefer, Mr. Commissioner:
I am a fan of the NHL, have been ever since I can remember.
I vaguely remember the Toronto Maple Leafs winning a Stanley Cup in 1967. Yes, hell really did freeze over in my lifetime.
My love for the game has blossomed. Long ago, I turned a blind eye toward player defections to the World Hockey Association. I’ve shrugged my shoulders at work stoppages, recognizing that they were a necessary evil to solidify the economic status of the game I adore so much.
I have come to appreciate your sincerity. Some words of yours, in fact, come to mind.
Words that you stoically told the world at the 2004 NHL all-star game. I quote: “With the right economic system, we can take the pressure off of ticket prices, and I believe with the right economic system, many, if not most of our teams, will actually lower ticket prices. I believe we owe it to our fans to have affordable ticket prices.’’
Wow, brilliant. You and the NHL owners really do care. Yes, eight years later, we are playing less for tickets. Way less. Pardon me, while I go and do some fact-checking ...
It seems you and the owners aren’t men of your word. Mr. Bettman, what happened to those lower ticket prices?
You and the owners took the NHL players to the woodshed when a deal was reached to bring players back in 2005 ... after an entire season was missed.
Collectively, they bent over, grimaced and said, ‘Thank you sir, may I have another.’
You had your way with them. A 24% pay cut across the board. Nice deal, sir. And, in some cases, as a grand gesture, teams did drop their ticket prices ... a bit. Average ticket prices dropped from $43.57 the season prior to the NHL lockout, to $41.19. But a strange, and perhaps predictable, thing happened.
Ticket prices rose ... and rose ... and rose. Last season, the average ticket price was more than $57.
So while NHL teams were sucking up greater dividends and the players had reduced paycheques, fans were paying the price, sir.
Mr. Bettman, I have to give kudos to the Ottawa owner, Eugene Melnyk. At least the Senators are reasonable, charging an average ticket price of $55.61. It would sure suck to be paying an average price of $123.77 in Toronto. They should charge a buck per win.
Sir, why do you allow NHL teams to get away with charging higher ticket prices? Do you not remind them that it is a tough economy; that I may not be able to spend my week’s paycheque on taking my family to a game?
I listened to you when you said: “Nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do, OK. This is very hard and I feel terrible about it.”
Sir, this is the third lockout on your watch. So you’ve done a lot of on-the-job feeling terrible.
Quite frankly, sir, I’m pissed off ... billionaires and millionaires unable to agree.
One last thing, Mr. Bettman, why are so many of your players on the first available flight to play in Europe? Doesn’t that put a big hole in that one-for-all, all-for-one unity mantra? Oh, sorry, sir, I forgot ... that is not your department. I need to write your good friend, Mr. Fehr.
Sorry to take up so much of your time, Mr. Bettman. I’m sure you are meeting with the other side as I write.
AVERAGE TICKET PRICES (2011)
Toronto Maple Leafs, $123.77
Montreal Canadiens, $88.67
Winnipeg Jets, $98.27
Edmonton Oilers, $70.13
Vancouver Canucks, $68.38
Calgary Flames, $68.18
Philadelphia Flyers, $66.89
NY Rangers, $66.20
Pittsburgh Penguins, $63.06
Minnesota Wild, $62.63
Washington Capitals, $62.42
Boston Bruins, $58.94
Chicago Blackhawks, $55.72
Florida Panthers, $55.67
Ottawa Senators, $55.51
Detroit Red Wings, $53.28
Los Angeles Kings, $51.92
Nashville Predators, $51.04
San Jose Sharks, $49.73
NY Islanders, $49.06
Columbus Blue Jackets, $47.95
New Jersey Devils, $45.86
Anaheim Ducks, $45.68
Carolina Hurricanes, $41.58
St. Louis Blues, $41.57
Colorado Avalanche, $40.62
Buffalo Sabres, $38.25
Tampa Bay Lightning, $37.73
Phoenix Coyotes, $36.15
Dallas Stars, $29.95
NHL AVERAGE $57.39
(Stats obtained from fancostexperience.com; average ticket price uses season-ticket prices and does not include premium seating and luxury suites)