Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Selling out in Last Place; the St. Louis Blues

St. Louis may be the most under-rated hockey town with an NHL franchise. If you managed to find this blog in its early days (all of about a month ago), every night when I reported attendances I was always pleasantly surprised with the attendance figures coming out of St. Louis. I kept saying over and over, I have to take a look at what is making so many people get out to see a Blues team that is in last place in the Western Conference. I haven't found anything too revealing, but I have found that hockey is deeply rooted in St. Louis.

For your viewing pleasure, here is St. Louis' average attendance of recent years (click to enlarge):

Let's start with some raw facts about the team. The Blues are the 25th most valuable team in the NHL at $162 million, which is up 12% from last seasons value of $144 million. Their revenue jumped from $68 million in 06-07 to $73 million last season; $24 million of that being gate receipts. The problem with the Blues? Their debt over value is 74%, and their operating income was at $-8.6 million for last season (All above from Forbes).

OK, some good, and some bad. But along with the good attendance, good TV Ratings are occurring as well in St. Louis. As of December 3rd, 2008, the Blues Average Local rating was 1.9; tying them at 6th in the league with the Colorado Avalanche (Nielsen Blog).

Among all this is a big reason why the Blues have sold out 16 of their 21 home games thus far this season. The St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center are the cheapest team to go see. Their average ticket price is $29.94, almost $20 less than the NHL Average $49.66. Their Fan Cost Index, which is the average amount a group of four will spend at an NHL game for each particular franchise, is $193.26. They are the only NHL team under $200 in the FCI, and are about $25 cheaper to see than the 2nd cheapest team to see, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Blues FCI is almost $100 dollars below the NHL Average of $288.23, too (All above from Teammarketing.com).

The price of the tickets in St. Louis is one of two of the major reasons the Blues are drawing great crowds for a struggling team. If you take a look at the Blues website and check out their ticket deals, they aren't doing anything radically different from other teams. They have their basic flex and pick 'em plans, along with family deals and student nights. So it really isn't the ticket deals that are doing it, its just the prices that get them in the door.

Along with the prices though, there are plenty of Blues die-hard fans, which is the other major reason the Blues are filling up the Scottrade Center. As the TV ratings show, plenty are watching from home too. A quick google search of "St. Louis Hockey" and there are a bunch of results, many of which are youth hockey teams. One site that caught my eye though was the St. Louis Local Hockey Network, which started in 2004 and focuses on helping hockey players and fans unite and enjoy the game around the St. Louis area.

Finally, another aspect that helps the Blues, whether they want to admit it or not, is the fact that there is no NBA franchise in the area. St. Louis is ranked 21st in NHL City Population, with only 353,837 as of March 10th, 2008; but with a metro population of 2,801,033. If there was an NBA franchise in St. Louis, the attendance may not be affected much, but I think the TV ratings may drop due to game conflicts with TV rights.

That is all hypothetically, though. The fact of the matter is, the Blues management is filling the Scottrade center night in and night out with cheap tickets and die-hard fans. They better take care of their on-ice issues soon though, or some of the fair weathered fans may start staying away. If the team can gain some momentum at the end of this year and start of strong next year, a sellout streak will start soon in St. Louis.

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