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The Cross-Ice Pass: How About a Ticket Cap?
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
Jan 23, 2005 - 6:10:00 PM

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There has been some talk the last few days following the informal NHL/NHLPA meetings set up by player’s association head Trevor Linden that it is still possible to save the NHL season, that some common ground can be found.

Don’t count on it.

With owner resolve and solidarity at an unprecedented level, the NHL is determined to implement what they call “cost certainty,” likely meaning a hard salary cap for each NHL team. When this process began some, including myself, thought the owner’s resolve would collapse, much like it did during the lockout of 1994, when the league’s richer owners decided once again that making the world safe for small market teams wasn’t worth the money they were losing. The owners are determined to implement an idiot-proof system to save them from their own dumb mistakes this time, and at this point it seems as though Bob Goodenow, having very little leverage in negotiations, will be able to stop them. The league will go to the labour board sometime in the next year or so and attempt to declare an impasse, at which point they will implement their salary cap and, fairly or unfairly, all the NHLPA’s efforts will have been for naught.

But if the owners get their “cost certainty” at the expense of the 2004-05 season and countless hours of lost enjoyment for myself and millions of other hockey fans, we deserve something in return.

How about a little “cost certainty” for us? Yes, it’s an idea whose time has come: Let’s have a cap on ticket prices.

The average ticket price in the NHL last season was approximately $44, with the average price for a ticket in some rinks as high as $57.11 (Detroit) and as low as $29.76 (Florida). A premium seat costs more, obviously, somewhere between $80 and $120 in most rinks, with additional costs such as concessions, parking, and programs adding to the price of a game (for a complete list of 2003-04 ticket prices and the Fan Cost Index for all 30 NHL teams visit Team Marketing Report’s NHL Page).

While fans can all agree that the cost to see an NHL game is far too high for the average citizen, it’s difficult to predict whether or not the introduction of a salary cap will overtly affect ticket prices. The league has said that player salaries make up nearly 75% of their expenses, and while some argue that ticket prices naturally settle at the level the market will bear, many fans believe that if player costs go down ticket prices must logically do the same, and the NHL has encouraged that belief.

However, if the league does achieve cost certainty with regard to player costs, and owners are able to rest easy with the knowledge that their payrolls will never rise above a certain level, why not give the fans the same peace of mind?

How about a hard ticket cap of $30 a seat, on average?

The average attendance at an NHL game last season, according to the NHL’s numbers, was 16,533. Assuming those levels remain the same when the NHL returns (a rather generous assumption at this point, but one which will do for our purposes), that means that at an average ticket price of $30 revenue per game would be $495,990. A team with 41 home games would thus bring in $20,335,590, with total league ticket revenues in an 82 game season, 1230 games total, being $610,067,700. A ticket cap of $35 would bring revenue to $711,745,650, $40 would raise that total to $813,423,600, while one of $45, which, remember, is about a dollar more than what the average ticket price was last season, would set the bar at $915,101,550.

While the salary cap numbers rumoured to be proposed by the league have been said to be anywhere between $31 million and about $40 million, we can speculate a bit and come up with comparatives. If a hard salary cap were set at $35 million per team, league-wide player costs would come out to a total of $1.05 billion. At our $30 ticket cap, revenue from ticket sales would cover just over 58% of that; at $35, tickets would allay just under 68%.

58-68% through ticket sales alone. That doesn’t include luxury box sales, parking, concessions, jersey sales, TV money, program sales, or a myriad of other sources the NHL gets its revenue from. Of course, the ticket cap wouldn’t stop seats near the glass from costing more, but for every seat that cost $90, three would have to be $10 under the $30 ticket cap. In addition, the system would have to have some regulations. Average league attendance would perhaps have to meet a certain level for the fans to keep the cap, or else teams would have the right to raise it. Teams wouldn’t be allowed to charge $10 for a beer and $20 for a hot dog to make up for lowering ticket prices either.

But at the end of this lockout, don’t we, as fans, deserve something for enduring it, particularly if we come back in the same numbers as we did before this mess began? After listening to all the rhetoric and the proposals and the talk of philosophical differences, cost certainty and free markets when all we really want is to watch hockey again, can’t the two sides at least throw us a bone? We’ve earned it. And considering what the NHL’s proposals to the union have looked like, surely the league wouldn’t have the sheer gall to suggest that player salaries shouldn’t be set in a free market but ticket prices should be. Would they?

Links to this article and a short description of its contents have been sent to the NHL and NHLPA through their web sites. If you’re a hockey fan, and you like the idea of a ticket cap, spread it around! Send links to this piece to your fellow fans, to your local NHL team, to the NHL (The Daly Mailbag or feedback) and NHLPA ( feedback) to show that you like the idea. Let the two sides know that we’re important to this negotiation too!

Note: Since the NHL’s past is a lot more fun to talk about right now than its present or future, keep an eye on the individual team pages here at MOP Squad (go to and click the team name on the left side of the page) for updated Team History pages (click the Team History link on the upper left once you’re at a team’s page). The team histories for Anaheim and Atlanta are finished, and more are on their way. Each team has a section for its “Greatest Players”, two goalies, four defensemen, and six forwards who are the greatest that team has seen play for them at those positions. I hope that my selections will provoke some discussion at the MOP Squad message board (click “Fan Forum” in the upper right corner of the page), and as always, feel free to email me at with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

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