Selling hockey in Hockeytown
But can the league sell hockey in Hockeytown?
Of course Detroit is a vibrant hockey market. But it's also becoming a poster child for the faltering business fortunes of the NHL.
When the Detroit Red Wings open their season tonight (7 p.m., Versus) at Joe Louis Arena, the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks will be their opponent. The same Ducks who knocked the Red Wings out of the Western Conference final in six games last spring.
This matchup is a ticket-seller's dream.
But tickets are still available for the game. And it's very likely that the Red Wings' season-opener will not be a sellout.
To put that into perspective, the last regular-season home game at Joe Louis Arena that was not a sellout was on Dec. 10, 1996. That's a 396-game streak that will end if something remarkable doesn't happen before tonight's opening faceoff.
Even more telling is that the Red Wings didn't sell out any of their nine home playoff games last spring. The first game of the playoffs ended Detroit's streak of 452 consecutive sellouts -- regular season and playoff.
This much is clear … the NHL has greater problems than selling hockey in England. Not that the league shouldn't play a game or two abroad. There was nothing lost (other than sleep for players) and a lot of potential gain.
But swatches of empty seats in Hockeytown are big red flags. During a broadcast of Hockey Central on Toronto's Fan 590-AM this summer, former player Nick Kypreos called the lack of ticket buyers in Detroit alarming for the NHL. Kypreos is right.
There are reasons why those seats aren't selling in Detroit right now. Obviously the Michigan economy hurts ticket sales greatly.
But bad times didn't arrive in Michigan just this year.
Ticket sellers have had a long time to adjust the Red Wings' prices to the local economy. Instead, the team has gone with the philosophy of ticket prices being set to what price will sell.
That's not a bad way to do business and I'm sure the coffers have been full downtown for many years.
But there is proactive and there is reactive. The Red Wings find themselves tonight reminded that they are chasing rather than leading.
Ticket prices were slashed to $9 in the upper corners, which is a smart thing to do. Interestingly enough, it's not the highest priced seats, nor the lowest priced seats that have been the toughest to sell leading into this season. It has been the upper-bowl $44 seats -- priced for the middle class.
If this season-opener doesn't sell out, it's unlikely that there will be many sellouts this season. Toronto doesn't come to town. Sidney Crosby doesn't come to town.
And isn't it odd to talk about selling tickets to Red Wings games based on opponents and ticket prices.
The team has done its job. No team had more regular-season points than the Red Wings did last winter and only two teams went further in the playoffs. No team had more regular-season points than the Red Wings did the year before.
In fact, you can't find a 15-year period of success like the Red Wings are currently riding if you look through the entire history of the Pistons, Tigers or Lions.
The Red Wings should be selling out based on their on-ice success. That success initially led to easy ticket sales and inflated prices.
That period was officially over in the playoffs. Now the same people who had to turn people away at the ticket window have to figure a way to draw people in.
The franchise has been slow to react, but this game's not over. It'll be fun to watch the Red Wings try to become more fan friendly over the next few years.