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Sports >  NHL

Kraken to offer lower entry-level ticket pricing after ‘listening sessions’ with fans

June 29, 2022 Updated Wed., June 29, 2022 at 5:16 p.m.

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Logan Thompson (36) makes a save in front of the Seattle Kraken’s Ryan Donato (9) and Jared McCann (16) during the second period at Climate Pledge Arena on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Seattle.  (Steph Chambers/Tribune News Service)
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Logan Thompson (36) makes a save in front of the Seattle Kraken’s Ryan Donato (9) and Jared McCann (16) during the second period at Climate Pledge Arena on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Seattle. (Steph Chambers/Tribune News Service)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Two months after the Seattle Kraken’s debut season ended, the 2021-22 NHL playoffs also reached conclusion Sunday with the Colorado Avalanche hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug.

The Avalanche winning their first Stanley Cup since 2001 was mostly a foregone conclusion after the opening two games of the best-of-seven Final. Colorado displayed too much energy for the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who looked depleted at times during their third consecutive championship-round appearance.

Still, the Lightning winning Game 5 in Denver last week likely contributed to a huge television ratings boost, with ABC averaging 4.6 million viewers and up 84% over NBC’s coverage of last year’s five-game finale.

So with that now done, local NHL fans can shift attention to summertime planning by the Kraken, who, in terms relative to the Lightning in the Cup Final, similarly saw their near-seven-month inaugural season all but decided only two struggling months in.

Unlike ABC’s viewers, the Kraken had challenges keeping their fans tuned in to the end, on TV and in the stands. Those in charge of team ticket sales heard it from both ends of the financial equation: Some season-ticket holders worried about their seats losing resale value, while other fans complained that single-game tickets were too expensive for them to attend Kraken contests.

The resale part will likely be resolved only by increasing local ticket demand through more winning by the team and – the Kraken hope – the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions that saw home games postponed and vaccination and masking mandates imposed at Climate Pledge Arena much of the season.

But as far as single-game ticket prices go, the Kraken do plan to make more seats available at $40 and lower to broaden the team’s appeal.

Bill Chapin, the Kraken’s senior vice president of sales and service, said this week the team has held monthly “listening sessions” with groups of fans to find ways to improve across a broad spectrum of ticketing areas. The relatively high introductory price point just to “get in” the arena has long been a leaguewide issue, with the NHL lacking the national and local TV broadcast revenues earned within the NFL, NBA and MLB.

To compensate, NHL ticket prices are among the highest of all sports. The Kraken’s are no exception, making it tougher to entice new fans to buy even the lowest-priced seats.

“You know, we learned a lot in our first year,” Chapin said. “We listened to our fans and did a lot of thinking about how we want to share our tickets. Price tickets in a way that gets our tickets in the right hands.”

The team sells about 1,500 to 1,800 single-game seats for every contest. But this season, about one-third of those seats will be sold in a cheaper $20 and $40 range starting in early July.

Given the reduced pricing of those upper-deck seats could prove easier to resell for a profit online, the Kraken want to ensure the tickets aren’t snatched up by brokers or bots. So fans will need to register through Tuesday for a “Verified Fan Pre-Sale” program run by the team’s Ticketmaster partner.

Verified Fan involves a fan registration process in which algorithms determine whether that person has engaged in heavy prior resale activity. The Kraken used the technology starting in 2019 to weed out potential ticket brokers from their season-ticket list before putting such seats up for sale.

“We want to get the $40 and $20 tickets into the hands of the fans so they can enjoy this incredible game that we all love,” Chapin said. “And grow the hockey community and grow the fans that love the games. And grow the fans that like the game and are going to learn to love it.”

Where are all these cheaper seats coming from?

Well, the Kraken made $20 tickets available to community groups and youth hockey associations last season. While Chapin said that was “very successful,” not all seats set aside for such groups wound up being sold.

“In some cases, youth hockey isn’t coming on a Wednesday night,” Chapin said. “So we’d have to go to other community groups and organizations. And so we now know after a year about how many we need.”

Instead of going unused, hundreds of those seats per game will now be made available to the public at $20 and $40.

Again, that won’t fix all the Kraken’s ticketing issues. As mentioned, some season-ticket holders have complaints at the opposite end of the equation – that seats they paid $300 for were selling at only half that amount on resale exchanges on nights they couldn’t attend games themselves.

As mentioned, that’s largely a “demand” issue remedied mainly through better Kraken play and arena conditions. One thing I noticed – and that some fans gave me as feedback – was that season tickets in the $100 range and lower were generally maintaining much of their online resale value.

So, you couldn’t just waltz over to StubHub and snag Kraken seats for $40 or lower on most nights. That would suggest this new reduced-price plan by the Kraken might avoid competing too directly with season-ticket holders struggling to unload their own seats online. And that the $20-$40 price range truly could tap in to a new subset of fans feeling priced out of games.

We’ll see.

As for season-ticket holders struggling to sell their unused seats online – which many do, given there are 41 home dates – the Kraken are looking at one partial solution. The team early last year had explored implementing an online exchange platform that would allow Kraken season-ticket holders to trade and resell seats with one another on nights they can’t attend.

The team aborted that plan before the season due to technology concerns. Those issues have apparently been worked out, and the team hopes to announce something this summer.

For now, the lower “get in” pricing marks a first step toward changing some of the Kraken’s off-ice dynamic. Those planning to watch from the stands this season will no doubt have an eye on next week’s NHL entry draft and subsequent free-agent period to see whether significant on-ice changes are also in store.

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