Flyers Season Ticket Sales Are Not What They Used To Be (Update)

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies season is practically over.

After the debacle that was Monday Night Football, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles surviving their schedule gauntlet and being a team of substance in the second half of the NFL season.

And then there’s the Sixers and the Ben Simmons drama.

If there was ever an opportunity for the Flyers to steal some of the limelight in town, it could be this season. Get off to a good start, get fans interested during the doldrums of the Eagles’ season, and get people excited early in the second half before the Simmons soap opera concludes and before Spring Training kicks in for the Phillies.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Maybe it is. But then again, maybe it isn’t.

No one should ever use preseason attendance as an indicator of anything, but the announced attendance for Tuesday night’s game against the New York Islanders of 12,600 was, per usual, inaccurate.

That’s not me indicting the Flyers for fudging numbers. It’s not. Every team in pro sports gives you an attendance figure that is likely more than the actual bodies in the seats, unless it’s a game with an honest-to-goodness sellout. The attendance is the tickets sold. The actual number of people who walk through the turnstiles is the “drop count,” and the drop count is hardly ever reported publicly in sports.

Carter Hart guessed that the figure for the game was about 8,000 fans when he was asked about playing in front of a bigger crowd again after Tuesday’s game. That’s probably closer to accurate then the announced attendance.

And it’s a number that is smaller than usual for preseason. But as I said, preseason is preseason. Today’s ticket buyer is a lot less interested in preseason anything than they were a generation ago. And who can blame them? Why spend money on a ticket, or tickets for a game that doesn’t count and that features half a lineup that isn’t going to play for the team this season?

For example, the two guys who scored goals for the Flyers Tuesday – Egor Zamula and Maxim Sushko – were immediately demoted to the “Phantoms” practice Wednesday.

The Flyers split their training camp into two rosters on Wednesday, and it’s obvious that the guys practicing on the Flyers rink were the guys who were going to be starting the year with the team, or at least were still in the mix to do so, while the guys on the Phantoms rink looked like the guys who were heading to Lehigh in the coming weeks.

Staying home and not spending your money on a preseason game is smart.

But what about the season ticket holders? They have to buy the preseason games as part of their package. Did they just eat those tickets? Were they able to somehow sell them for peanuts to make back some pennies on their dollars? Or was the number of butts in the seats more indicative of a greater trend for the Flyers – that season ticket sales are down?

Crossing Broad was able to obtain the NHL’s off-season ticket sales report, and in it, the Flyers season ticket sales were down approximately 3% heading into this season. The team now ranks 13th in the NHL in season ticket sales, this following a span of, well, decades where they were near the top of that list in the league.

I asked Comcast-Spectacor Chairman and CEO and Flyers Governor Dave Scott about this at his most recent press conference, and this was his response:

“I’ll tell you that those reports are tough. There’s so many variables and stuff. We did go through it with a fine-tooth comb, but I can tell you, new ticket sales were probably number one. I don’t know if I could get [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] to say that, but we did very well on our new ticket sales and on renewals. I think we’re at top five for sure.”

It’s probably true that the Flyers are at or near the top of the league in new ticket sales. One of the things that is important to point out is that these NHL reports are reliant on teams providing information to the league and the timing of which they provide it. So, it’s possible the Flyers are near the top of the league in that category, which is certainly a good thing.

But that is also an indicator that there were tickets available for them to sell, which means at least that many, if not more, season ticket holders bailed out in recent seasons.

There could be any number of reasons why that is. The team has been mediocre, at best, for almost a decade. Eventually, fans are going to step aside until the team is good again, and then come back. Hey, winning cures all ills.

And COVID-19 could have had a major impact as well. Not just the fear of getting sick while in attendance at a game, but the economic impact the pandemic had on the lifestyles, careers, and wallets of fans:

“We really got hit,” Scott said. “We were fortunate we didn’t go through a lot of layoffs and things others did, but we got really hit hard. To have the arena shut down… all that time, we had nothing going on the whole calendar year indoors. We got hit hard. But everybody stayed focused and kept looking at the future. We did a lot of planning. I think we’re coming out of this in good shape.”

Technically, they are still one of the ‘haves.’ The Flyers are in the top half of the league in season ticket sales, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing, which is why Scott can be confident the team is still in good shape.

That said, it’s a far cry from where it used to be. Nevertheless, Scott is painting a rosy picture.

“We’re really happy where we’re sitting as we look at it,” he said. “Between the bowl seating and season tickets, the new [ticket sales], and the premium seating we’re going to be north of 13,000 which we’re really excited about. I think the biggest challenge on the business side is the group sales and we’re seeing it everywhere in every industry. We manage convention centers and things. All that business is just down so we’re going to have to work that harder.”

Being north of 13,000 is only accurate if you include full season equivalencies – which combines all partial plan purchases to be included in that number.

And if you include the partials, Scott is right, the off-season report had the Flyers close to 14,000 tickets sold, which is a 3% increase, but still ranks 14th in the NHL.

“Our fans were terrific, sticking with us,” Scott said. “That’s where we are.”

And where they are is in a place where the number of actual season ticket holders is far lower than they’ve been, maybe since the era just after they expanded into the NHL.

According to the report, the number of Flyers season tickets (not including the equivalencies) is roughly 10,000. But even that number is a bit high.

Because not all of those are being sold to individuals, but rather, a percentage of them are sold to ticket brokers as well.

Again, this is nothing unique to the Flyers. All teams do it. It’s kind of one of those dirty little secrets in the sports ticketing world, but nevertheless, it happens. Teams don’t have to declare the number sold to brokers, but one industry source said 2,000 tickets is about right. A second source guessed it was closer to 3,000. Again, these aren’t specifically accurate figures, but coming from people who would know, they are definitely in the ballpark.

If we go with the low-end number, this puts the actual full-season ticket holder number right around 8,000 – or the amount that Hart felt was the Flyers first preseason game Tuesday.

“A broker will give you $2 million for tickets up front, which makes you feel great in September, but then in February they make you feel like shit,” one of the sources said.

That’s because brokers who can’t move their tickets will start selling them for lower prices than the teams are selling remaining individual tickets for the same game. Discerning fans will buy cheaper from the broker than from the team itself, and there’s nothing the team can do about it.

This forces the team to get creative – and they start promoting cheaper prices for individual tickets sooner – to try and get a jump start on the brokers. But you know what that does? That screws over the season ticket holder, who is trying to sell their tickets on the secondary market and get face value but can’t because both the team and the broker are underselling them:

“I don’t understand what the benefit of being a season ticket holder is anymore,” said one season ticket holder who requested anonymity but currently has two tickets in the lower level near the goal line. “I get a discount price on my tickets by buying a full season, I get that, but then the team sells individual seats in my section or the sections right near mine for $45 less each, how am I supposed to make any money back if I can’t go to the game?

“It’s like they don’t care about us anymore. The perks are not nearly as good as they used to be 5-10 years ago. So, without those benefits and with the team sticking it to me once they go to sell individual game tickets, why should I bother forking over $11,000 just to be a season ticket holder each year?”

It’s a great question. And one the Flyers have been trying to answer themselves, in an effort to stem the slow decline down the list of season ticket sales, as they try to get back to being one of the most in-demand tickets in the NHL.

Comcast-Spectacor bought in to the notion that millions of dollars of upgrades at the Wells Fargo Center with unique environments for fans would work with the millennial crowd, which is now the prime target for ticket buying not just for the Flyers, but the Sixers, the Wings, and for concerts and other events at the Center.

So, things like the “Rage Room” where fans can pay to break stuff were created. The entire upper level of the arena was converted from club boxes to bars, a sports gambling section, and a more casual vibe with couches and fireplaces. Then there’s The Assembly Room and Liberty Lofts – all designed to attract a younger, more casual fan. But, before the pandemic hit, that section was so popular among Flyers fans, not for the amenities, but for people to buy affordable, standing room tickets and standing there, you know, actually watching the hockey game. Go figure.

More changes are coming this year, as Comcast-Spectacor doubles down that this approach will work. And maybe it does for the Sixers, or for other events at the Wells Fargo Center.

But hockey fans are a different breed. Even a casual hockey fan, if one exists in this market, wants to watch the game live. That’s the beauty of hockey. It’s a great spectator sport. Watching the speed and fluidity of the sport in person is pretty cool, so much so that it has far greater appeal to that so-called casual fan than swinging a hammer at computer equipment does.

For the past couple seasons, Crossing Broad has heard from dozens of current and now former season ticket holders who felt that the Flyers forgot about them to try and reach a fan base that might not exist for hockey in this area.

It’s cute to call hockey a niche sport, and that’s because the Flyers are currently No. 4 out of the four major sports in the Philadelphia market. But those that say that forget what it was like for decades with the Flyers around here. They outdrew the Sixers for years and still have better local television ratings.

When the Phillies were terrible in the late 80s and most of the 90s, the Flyers were No. 2 in this town, especially when they went to two Stanley Cup Finals in three years in the 80s and then after a brief downturn, returned to such Philadelphia prominence for the Eric Lindros years.

Hockey isn’t casual in Philadelphia. It’s religion. Maybe that’s the only thing that’s niche about it. You aren’t attracting pseudo-fans like the other sports can. Hockey fans are different. They’re hardcore. They care about their team.

So if the continued push for casual fans by Comcast-Spectacor fails, and the Flyers don’t return to prominence at or near the top of the league to make fans believe there is a real Stanley Cup contender in town, and the continued result is losing a season ticket base that was so strong at one point that there was a waiting list to become a season ticket holder, well, that might be a hole too deep of which to climb out.

UPDATE:

After this story published, the Flyers reached out to me looking to clarify a few things. I agreed to add this to the story.

First, while Flyers business executives do not dispute the numbers we quoted in the story, they wanted to point out that their focus is on full-season equivalences and not on season-ticket sales alone. They want to create flexibility – not just internally, but for fans themselves, offering up additional packages – like the half-season plan that was instituted in 2019-20.

The idea being that the way tickets are being sold has changed over the last few years, and while season tickets are still the lifeblood of any sports organization, having the ability to be flexible with buyers and offer different packages is a way to keep more fans engaged. In other words, maybe someone who has been a season ticket holder for a period of time no longer wants to by two tickets to 41 games, but might be willing to buy four tickets to 20 games.

While that person disappears from the overall season ticket holder number, it doesn’t mean they are gone for good.

So, the Flyers insist they are happy with being at approximately 14,000 tickets sold including equivalencies, especially coming off a pandemic.

Secondly, they wanted to point out that even though they do sell to brokers (and although they wouldn’t share the exact number of season tickets sold to brokers they did admit that our numbers were pretty accurate), that they have capped the number of tickets that go to brokers each season. The reason they did this is because it was impacting the resale value of season-ticket holder tickets.

The Flyers said their secondary market season ticket prices increased by more than 40% because of this change, which shows there is less supply and more demand, meaning season ticket holders should be able to recoup more money.

Also, although the Flyers did sell individual tickets at discounts last season, they say that was a one-off because of the pandemic. They say they didn’t do it in 19-20 and promised there would be no such sales this season, again, because it is an outdated practice that hurt season-ticket holder sales.

As always, we will continue to monitor how things go for the team and keep you up to date.

 

Editor’s note: A Flyers ticket rep actually reached out to me last week. Phone and email. It’s the first time I’ve been contacted about season tickets, ever, so it would seem to suggest that the Flyers are canvassing the region with some diligence. – Kinkead

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