No NHL? So what?

Mar 082005
Authors: Bob Fernandez

After months of back-and-forth bickering between the NHL and the players' union, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally decided last month to officially cancel the NHL season.

The most disturbing aspect of this ongoing saga isn't the end result-the cancellation of the NHL season – it is that Bettman and the NHL actually believed that anyone but the most avid hockey fans would actually care that the 2004-2005 NHL season had officially come to an end before it had started.

The most active of hockey fans may have been angered, disappointed or saddened by the announcement on Feb. 16. But the vast majority of sports fans around the country were unsurprisingly indifferent toward the announcement.

Colorado sports fans have been fortunate enough to have a hockey franchise, in the Colorado Avalanche, that has won two Stanley Cups and has won Northwest/Pacific Division championships in each of its nine seasons since moving to Colorado from Quebec in 1995.

As a result of the Avs' success, the team has enjoyed a fan base that is second in size and enthusiasm to only the "Broncos Nation." However, Colorado is the exception, not the norm.

Fan support in virtually every NHL city, with the exception of Denver, Detroit and a few cities north of the border, has dwindled in recent years.

Among major professional sports leagues, the NHL remains a distant fourth in terms of popularity and financial success behind the NFL, MLB and NBA.

Anytime the Avs have hit the ice over the last nine years, the Pepsi Center (or previously McNichols Arena) had been jam-packed to the rafters, which is a stark contrast to the half-empty arenas in which most NHL franchises have to play.

The clearest proof of the lack of interest toward the NHL can be found in the financial numbers.

NHL owners claim to have lost $1.8 billion over the last decade and nearly $500 million in the last two years.

So why is it that the NHL is losing money, while its sister leagues, the NFL, NBA and MLB, continue to be much more profitable? Outrageous ticket prices are one of the biggest factors that have contributed to the NHL's downfall.

According to an annual survey conducted by the sports marketing publication Team Marketing Report, the average price of a ticket to a Colorado Avalanche ticket in 2003-2004 was $42.18, slightly below the NHL average of $43.57.

Fans who have gone to see the Denver Nuggets, the team that shares the Pepsi Center with the Avs, have been subjected to much lower ticket prices. The average cost of a ticket to a Nuggets game in 2003-2004 was $32.77, which was the second-lowest average ticket price in the NBA and well below the league average of $44.68.

Colorado Rockies fans have benefited from even a greater value. The average price of a Rockies ticket in 2003-2004 was $15.10, and the league average was $19.82

Broncos fans are the only Denver fans who have had to fork over a considerable amount more than Avs fans, but this is "Bronco Nation"-the team can increase its ticket prices to $1,000 a pop, and it'll still sell out every game just like it has during the past few decades.

The average Broncos ticket in 2004 was $61.18 and the NFL average was $54.75. Although these figures are high, the numbers are not quite as staggering when taking into account that the Broncos only play eight regular-season home games a year, compared to the Rockies' 81 and the Avs' and Nuggets' 41 per year.

So even if a fan were to attend every game, it would be impossible to spend nearly as much money on tickets for a full season of Broncos games as a full season Avs, Nuggets or Rockies games.

So rather than sitting at home, sulking over an Avs season that was never meant to be, many fans have realized that they can enjoy a Nuggets game, or, in less than a month, a Rockies game for a fraction of the price.

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