The Sabres have a tough sales job ahead. They just finished one of the most tumultuous and least-effective seasons in NHL history. Bad hockey, the kind that led to entire rows of season-ticket holders leaving their seats empty, is forecast again for next season.
On top of that, Buffalo fans will have to pay more to watch it.
The Sabres announced their season-ticket prices for the 2014-15 season Wednesday, and as usual the cost is going up. The 46-game packages have increased roughly 4 percent over last season, a boost of $1 to $4 per seat, per game.
“No price increase for any commodity, for anything, is popular,” team President Ted Black said on the “Sabres Hockey Hotline” radio show. “No one likes to pay more for tickets or for entertainment, but even with this increase our ticket price will still be 23rd in the league, and we’re anticipating that the gulf between our average ticket price and the average ticket price in the league will still be about $20 cheaper.”
The Sabres’ season-ticket prices will range from $27 to $107 per game, up from $26 to $103 last season. Ticket prices were $22 to $88 when owner Terry Pegula purchased the team in February 2011, increases of 22.8 percent and 21.6 percent, respectively. The salary cap during that time has gone up 19.7 percent, based on next season’s estimated $71.1 million. The Sabres are expected to be closer to the cap floor of $52 million.
Season-ticket packages start at $1,146 per seat and go up to $4,477. The biggest jump is in 300 Level I, where costs are rising 5.15 percent. The smallest increase is in 300 Level II, which is going up 3.17 percent. The price bumps in the remaining sections fluctuate from 3.37 percent to 4.84 percent.
To offset the increase and entice fence-sitting fans to remain season-ticket holders, the Sabres are offering a rebate bonus. Season-ticket holders who renew by June 23 will get 6.5 percent of their costs back on a SabreBucks card, which is used to purchase concessions and merchandise in First Niagara Center.
In addition to the 4 percent jump over the standard 2.5 percent rebate, fans will be able to use their SabreBucks card in the two HarborCenter restaurants that are under construction.
“We feel this additional rebate will not only mitigate the effects of the price increase but also provide our season-ticket holders with a significant benefit and opportunity to experience HarborCenter during its inaugural season,” John Sinclair, Sabres vice president of tickets and services, said in a statement.
The team has tied its price hike to a clause in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. The CBA dictates that clubs that receive revenue sharing must keep pace with the league’s average ticket price. If the teams fall below 75 percent of the average they “shall be required to submit to the league and Revenue Sharing Oversight Committee a forward-looking three-year business plan to establish a framework for improving its financial performance.”
“That’s really the driving reason for it, so we can continue to receive that revenue source,” Black said during the radio show broadcast on WGR-AM 550.
The Sabres have 16,000 season-ticket holders and, according to Sinclair, a waiting list of 2,900. Fans’ fear of giving up their tickets and not being able to get them back when the team eventually improves could help drive renewals.
The on-ice product certainly won’t help, though the Sabres sent a graphic to fans trumpeting the number of draft picks possessed by the team. Sinclair also sent a letter thanking fans for their patience and loyalty “in a year that proved to be extremely trying for everyone.”
The Sabres’ season-ticket base has been their key to filling the 19,070-seat arena during season after season of playoff-free hockey. They’ve missed the postseason three straight years and five of the last seven.
Buffalo had 8,815 season-ticket holders in 2005-06, but back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference finals increased the number to 14,800 in 2007-08. Prices ranged from $10 to $69 per game in 2005-06 and $17 to $74 in 2007-08.
This year’s package includes 41 regular-season games, three preseason games, an appearance by the Rochester Americans and the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
“We appreciate the support that we get, even in the year that we just finished,” Black said. “It is something that we do not lose sight of at all.”