Why NHL Teams Raise Ticket Prices.

A brief explanation as to why NHL clubs raise their ticket prices.

I recently read a brief blurb in The Boston Globe about the Bruins raising season ticket prices by an average of $5.25, and the subsequent reaction of one season ticket holder toward the increase.

This particular fan will see the price of his balcony seats jump from $32 apiece to $52.50 for next season, and demanded a serious explanation  from the club as to why his ticket prices jumped by 50 percent.

I took the opportunity to do so, pointing out the Bruins were charging what the market could bear (no pun intended).

I’m not about to launch into any diatribe against the Bruins increasing ticket prices, or for that matter, the Los Angeles Kings recent announcement they were also raising price on season tickets (some by as much as 26 percent) or any other NHL team for raising prices.

Undoubtedly, there are hockey fans who feel they’re being gouged by their favorite teams, complaining “regular fans” are being priced out of the market. Some fans will tie those prices to the team’s payroll for its current roster, and perhaps blame “greedy players” for the high cost of watching your favorite team live.

What must be remembered is the NHL is a business, and everyone involved in it are there to make money.

The reason the Bruins and Kings are raising their ticket prices isn’t because of some super-secret agenda to fleece fans. Rather, they’re merely charging what they believe their fans in their respective markets can afford to pay.

In other words, they raise their prices, because they know there’s a market for those tickets, and plenty of folks willing to plunk down the dollars to buy them.

If a Bruins fan isn’t willing to pay the increased price to renew their season tickets, somebody else will happily so. The club knows this. They’re not worried about alienating you. They just want to sell season tickets and make as much money as possible. If they don’t get it from one Bruins fan, they know there are  thousands of others in the Boston metropolitan area and throughout Massachusetts currently willing to do so.

The Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup champions. They’ve played to sold out houses for the past two seasons, and barring a lengthy work stoppage, will do so again next season, regardless of whether or not they successfully defend the Cup this spring.

For this season, the Bruins fan cost index (the average cost for a family of four to attend an NHL game, including the price of tickets, concessions and parking) is $352.66, 11th highest in the league. Next season, they’ll probably crack the top ten.

They’re a hot attraction in Boston, and as long as there’s a demand for Bruins tickets, the team can charge what it wants, based on what they believe their market can afford to pay.

Like the Bruins, the Kings have also been playing before packed houses the past two seasons. Their fan cost index ($304.66) put them 17th overall in the league.

Kings fans might grumble over the nerve of ownership raising prices for what they consider a mediocre product on the ice this season, but judging by this season’s attendance figures, it’s not as though a large number of them have stopped going to the games, let alone refusing to renew their season tickets.

For those who refuse to renew, the Kings probably won’t encounter any difficulty finding other fans willing to purchase those tickets. After all, they’re charging what they believe their market can afford to pay.

Yes, fans can rail about the quality of the product they’re paying to see, but the Bruins, Kings and the other NHL teams aren’t forcing their fans to buy their tickets. No one put a gun to their heads. The fans paid those prices willingly, because they wanted to see those games so badly, they felt it was worth the price.

As long as fans keep paying those prices – whether the team’s a champion, a middle of the pack club, or a bottom feeder – they’re inevitably going to increase again. And again.

If you want the ticket prices to remain steady, or to drop, stop going to the games. Of course, that’s a risky proposition for fans in some cities, but if you’re in an entrenched market like Boston and Los Angeles, there’s no fear of those teams threatening to leave town for greener pastures if the fans don’t come out and support them.

Eventually, the teams will get the message, and keep prices fixed for a period of time, or drop them as an enticement to convince fans to return, as they did in the first season following the last lockout, when it was feared fans might stay away in protest over missing an entire season to a labor battle between owners and players.

Of course, once enough fans come back, the prices start going up again, but that’s the way it goes when you pay to watch your favorite NHL team.

Ultimately, the fans are responsible for the ticket prices.


  1. If it’s too much do what the Canadian teams fans do: watch your team in Anaheim, LA, Phoenix, Long Island, or Florida.

  2. Kings are making terrible mistakes. Last year they were a young exciting team now they’re a team of Philly’s trash. I’ll stay home and watch Center Ice.

  3. In the case of the Kings, the price increases bear no relationship to demand at all. I am not renewing my season tickets. Even at the old prices, I cannot sell tickets I cannot use for anything close to what I pay except for a handful of games against high-demand opponents. That means there is no excess demand like you claim.

    I predict that the season ticket base will atrophy just like the Dodgers’ base did when McCourt tried to gouge season ticket holders. Yes, I gave up my Dodgers tickets too, and I never came back.

  4. since the nhl relies heavily on revenue from tickets as opposed to tv money like football, there is a direct connection between player salaries and the price you pay at the gate. Why else do you think prices have risen so much? After the penguins won their cups in 91/92 they priced a lot of longtime supporters out of their seats. They then saw attendance hover around 10,000 a game. They are doing the same thing now, and if malkin and crosby eventually leave the same will happen. Just don’t blame the fans for not being “loyal” and not supporting their team in the bad times.

  5. Scott: The price increases actually ARE related to demand. They wouldn’t be increasing them otherwise. You might be unable to sell your tickets. The Kings, as an organization, are having no trouble doing so. Attendance has been average at full capacity for this season, as well as last season, up significantly from when they were at 93 percent capacity for 2009-10, and 89 percent for 2008-09.

    In October 2008, the Kings fan cost index was 14th overall in the league, at $281.31. That season, the Kings finished 14th overall in the Western Conference, with the fifth worst record in the league. For the following season, the Kings dropped their prices, and their FCI fell to 21st overall, to $277.31.

    The Kings climbed to sixth overall that season, making the playoffs for the first time in several years. Attendance rose that season to 93 percent capacity. As a result, the next season, the Kings increased their prices, by 7.2 percent, to 297.22, good for 18th overall.

    As the Kings filled their arena over the past two seasons, they’ve increased their prices accordingly. Why? Because there is a demand for those tickets at those prices, and they’re having no problem up to this point filling it.

    Of course, that could change for next season, if enough Kings fans are unhappy over their team’s performance this season. If so, and if the Kings continue to struggle next season, those prices could remain the same, or be reduced as they were three years ago.

    Demand drives the market.

  6. Lyle: Actually there is a correlation of player salaries and ticket prices. By definition, given that player salaries are directly tied to revenue, salaries and ticket prices will be positively correlated. I think what you mean to say is that higher salaries don’t cause higher ticket prices, which is what Steve is asserting. As the economist quoted in the article says, higher ticket prices result in higher salaries.

    Correlation does not equal causation. So while player salaries and ticket prices (part of revenue) are correlated, it’s not fair to blame player salaries for high ticket prices. I think this is point that you were making, but as someone who teaches statistics, I just want to see the terms used accurately.

    Market factors are important as well, so I’m not discounting that. However, using the drop in player salary post-lockout to try to prove no correlation isn’t exactly fair, as multiple teams were losing money pre-lockout. Thus, one wouldn’t expect their ticket prices to decline.

  7. Fair enough, Ben, I’ll say there is no relation between the two.

    During the lockout, the league initially claimed (as cited by league commissioner Bettman in the post I linked to) that a system of cost certainty was needed to both “save’ struggling teams, as well as make games more affordable for fans. Pre-lockout, salaries weren’t tied to revenues as they are now, yet the FCI was still determined by what each market could bear, not by salaries.

    How else to explain the Devils charging the 3rd highest FCI in 2004, but carrying the 11th highest payroll? Or the Islanders with the 6th highest FCI and the 14th highest payroll? Or the Bruins with the 5th highest FCI and 12th highest payroll? Or the Blackhawks with the 6th highest FCI and the 6th lowest payroll? Or the Wild with the 10th highest FCI and the 4th lowest payroll? Or the Penguins with the 13th highest FCI yet the 2nd lowest payroll?

  8. Ben statement to remember: “correlation does not equal causation”.

    There is a relationship between the salaries and the ticket prices, it just isn’t the only one.


    There are multiple variables spread out over time. Some variables will supplement the effects of other variables. Usually, or at least often, the real question is time.

    Will the Devils, Penguins and Bruins tickets all garner the same price five years from now? Ten years? Thirty years?

    An economist could outline the variables much better I’m sure, however some at least are:

    Local economy (disposable income)
    National economy
    Broadcast services – local and national
    Team performance
    Home playoff appearances
    Competing sports attractions


    Team player salaries;
    League players salaries


    I believe an economist would say that all variables, within the context of the current CBA , influence the supply and demand and thus indirectly influence the ticket prices.

    That being said, I am surprised to hear ticket prices are going up for these American teams.

    Though I believe in the premise of supply and demand, I would of expected prices to generally go down in a downward economy.

  9. What’s so surprising? I explained it, albeit simply, in my post. They charge what the market will bear.

  10. Oh yea, it’s fascinating to learn. From a distance, I never would of expected the market to be able to bear an increase. Really interesting post.