The Detroit Red Wings begin their title defense on Thursday night against the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets. If you live in the greater Detroit area, and have a couple hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket, you can still find seats in Joe Louis Arena. There are so many seats available, in fact, that the Red Wings actually reached out to their opponent's fan club in an effort to fill the building. What the heck is going on in Hockeytown?
This isn't exactly a new problem in Detroit, as the Red Wings struggled to sell tickets during last season's playoffs when the team claimed its 11th Stanley Cup, and fourth in the past 11 years. During the Stanley Cup Final, for example, Joe Louis Arena was overrun by thousands of Penguins fans willing to make the short four hour drive from Pittsburgh.
There are several theories as to why so many tickets are available, ranging from the current economic crisis -- which is particularly difficult in the state of Michigan -- combined with the ridiculous cost of tickets, to what can be called, for lack of a better phrase, the "Atlanta Braves Syndrome," where the local fans are so used to winning that they are simply bored with opening-round playoff games.
Let's face it, this is the Detroit Red Wings we're talking about here. That name is synonymous with winning in the NHL, and playing deep into May and early June is not only expected, it's often times a given.
According to Steve Wartenberg in Wednesday's Columbus Dispatch, the Red Wings were actually reaching out to Blue Jackets fans -- Detroit's opening-round opponent! -- to purchase seats for games 1 and 2 in Joe Louis Arena. Seriously. Not only were they offering the official fan club tickets, they were offering them tickets at a discounted price. From Wartenberg:
Seats are so available that Red Wings officials called the Jacket Backers -- the team's official fan club -- and offered a group discount. A very bad Detroit-area economy also is hurting sales.As I'm writing this post at 11:52 PM ET, Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the drop of the puck in game 1, I decided to take a journey over to the Red Wings official website and do a search for tickets. After requesting the best available pair in the arena, the first option returned to me was two seats in section 125, right along the goal line, 14 rows from the glass, for $105 per seat. I can get six seats together in section 226B for $75 a pop. If that price is too steep for you, Fox Sports and Tim Horton's are offering $30 tickets for games 1 and 2. As of right now, I can grab two in section 226C, row six, seats 24 and 25.
I also talked to FanHouse NFL editor, and Detroit native, Chris Burke about this on Wednesday, and he agreed with the theory that it's a combination of a sour economy, high-priced tickets and, at least in some part, the "spoiled fan factor."
"The obvious is that the economy is just terrible," said Burke. "I actually think that ticket sales might eventually be better in the playoffs, if they get out of round 1, because of less money being spent on the Pistons and Tigers. But they have been to the playoffs for almost two straight decades, so there's a bit of a spoiled-fan factor, for sure. That, plus the fact that the Wings seem to either go deep into the playoffs, or get upset in the first round, so there's more nervousness than excitement early on."
On a personal note, I purchased two seats to game 1 of the Final a year ago, from the Red Wings, for $190 a seat (face value). We were five rows from the roof, not even close enough to see octopi splatter on the ice prior to the opening face off. Throw in a couple of $8.00 Molson's and a Little Caeser's personal pan pizza, and, well, that's a car payment for two months (though, I'd make the trip again in a second, without hesitation).
Prior to game 1, as legions of Penguins fans converged on the glass to watch warm-up's, I remember asking an usher how this happened, and why the Red Wings didn't do anything to prevent it -- it's not hard to limit ticket sales from the team to a certain area -- and his response was somewhat surprising. Basically, and I'm paraphrasing here because this was nearly a year ago, he said they considered limiting sales to the Michigan area, but ultimately decided against it out of fear that the games would not sell out.
In case you're interested, tickets four rows into the upper deck for this year's Stanley Cup Final would cost $210 per seat.
Meanwhile, Blue Jackets fans seem interested in taking advantage of the situation in an effort to see the first playoff game in franchise history. Fans at forums such as the Hockey's Future message boards and The NHL Arena are already talking up their potential presence at the Joe.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made an appearance between periods of Wednesday's Penguins-Flyers game, talking about how league revenue has increased "four-to-five percent this year," and how ticket sales and season ticket renewals were going extremely well. He made no mention of the somewhat depressing situation in Detroit, home of the model franchise in the NHL, where playoff tickets are so readily available.