Looking at the bigger picture and the dollars of the Caps continued season ticket price increases

Caps - Red Wings game at Verizon Center - 10/22/11 - Section 409

Caps-Red Wings at Verizon Center, 10/22/11 - the view from 409

The Caps announced season ticket prices for next season and for many customers this means an increase for the fifth straight year.

Owner Ted Leonsis noted in a message to plan holders: “Most of you will see a change, an average increase of about 8%. Some seat prices have changed more than others, while some have stayed the same and a few seating areas actually have decreased in price. I realize no one wants to pay more, but our season-ticket pricing has been moderate when compared with others around the league.”

An average increase of 8% one year might not sound like a lot. But increases year-over-year work like compound interest and this one combined with those of the past four years has resulted in a dramatic increase in the total cost to plan holders for their Caps tickets. As an example, I was chatting with my father about the price of his 400 level seats over the past five years and here’s the total cost for his two seats by year, which are going up 12.5% for next season:

2008-09  $1713
2009-10  $1882
2010-11  $2478
2011-12  $2903
2012-13  $3266

So, in five years, the cost of his season tickets has almost doubled, increasing by 90.7% in going up $1553, from $1713 in 2008-09 to $3266 for next season. During this span, the Caps have been incredibly exciting to watch the majority of the time and have become the hottest ticket in D.C. But, the team has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs during this time and each of their post-season exits has featured some rather uninspiring play. Not since the 2007-08 playoff loss in seven games to the Flyers has it appeared as if the team left it all out on the ice as they were eliminated. In series losses to Pittsburgh (’08-’09), Montreal (’09-’10) and Tampa Bay (’10-’11), the team looked flat and unable to push over the hump to take their post-season game to the next level.

For team management, the justification for constant price increases is likely more about demand and Caps season ticket holder data than how each season has ended. A waiting list for season tickets, a sell out streak that dates back multiple seasons now and a “slightly better than 98%” renewal rate last season signals the Caps can get away with pushing prices upward every year. Looking at it this way, what the Caps are doing makes sense—they’re striking while they can and taking in dollars that their data is telling them are there to be grabbed.

However, after price increases for so many seasons in a row and large ones the past two years, a current team that would not make the playoffs if the season ended today, and signs that the resale market for Caps tickets might be softening, it would have been a good PR move for the Caps to give their loyal customers a break this year. But the truth is, for any plan holder they lose, the Caps likely have someone waiting to take their place right now.

This aggressive approach the Caps front office is taking with ticket prices appears to be working for them currently, but it has some potential to backfire long term if enough fans are left with a bad taste in their mouth from the constant increases and the team hits a rough patch, missing the playoffs for a year or two, or continuing to disappoint when they make it.

Meanwhile, up the road in Baltimore, the Ravens announced they will not raise ticket prices FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR. This is a team that was potentially one dropped pass (or bad call, depending on how you look at it) away from going to the Super Bowl this season. On their decision to leave prices alone again, Ravens President Dick Cass said, “We know that our fans are continuing to be stretched financially to pay for season tickets. While the economy is improving, it’s still not strong.”

Here in D.C., the Caps continue to push it with their price increases, pouncing on the chances before them to drive their revenues upward.  If the team on the ice attacked their opportunities each spring in the same manner, this might be easier to accept.

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About Mike Holden

Mike Holden is on Twitter at @mikeholden.

Posted on February 17, 2012, in Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. My ticket price has doubled since the lockout, from $19 to $38 per ticket. Before the lockout they were $17.

    Regardless of the business realities, it’s disgraceful.

  2. My tickets went up 75% over the same seasons (’08-’09 to ’12-’13).

  3. If we don’t make playoffs, I will be canceling… I couldn’t even resell my Sharks Tickets for 20 bucks… IMO the right price/value was last year.

    My tickets when I started was 19 a seat… they are now 35 a seat + the TAX which is no longer included in the price per seat…. =/ So ticket prices have more then doubled, if you included Ted BS on no longer including taxes, in less then 4 years. In this time my wages have gone down, so I’m forced to sell tickets to the prime games. My 1st two years I missed a combined 5 games total. This year I’ve sold more then 20.

    My other gripe is my dad is now handicap, and going to a game with him is now fairly miserable. I can no longer go to a game with him and my mom having all three of us sit together. So here I am stuck with three seats… If he goes, someone has to sit by themselves. Not to mention we get put in section 428 for all those games. (Caps shoot 1x and corner) I’ve found this to be very frustrating, esp when I consistently see STH who get assigned handicap section that do not need them.

  4. Mike, Have you tried talking to anyone at the Caps about the handicap seating issue? If you haven’t contacted Jim Van Stone, I would try that. He has been very helpful when I’ve contacted him. jvanstone@monumentalsports.com

  5. Rusty Shackelford

    I think this price increase is going to come back to bite the Caps. Longtime fans who have seen their season tickets more than double in just a few years started bailing last year and will continue to bail this year (not on the team itself, just in terms of being STH). I’m still on the fence for this year too. Couple that with the fact that the bandwagoners are losing interest in the team, and you’ve got a recipie for the VC to go back to the post lockout, pre Rock the Red whoo hoo bandwagon days where you could have a whole section to yourself. Ted and co decided to squeeze every last penny of profit from the fans, rather than building a sense of loyalty in them. Why should they continue to pay high prices for a mediocre product, and to a team that now sees its fans as nothing more than an ATM? It didn’t used to be this way. I don’t care what the Caps say about their prices being in the middle – this isn’t a hockey market. People won’t watch unless the team is winning or you can strike that right balance between product and price. DC is a frontrunning sports town – we’re going to see the same thing happen with the Nats, just watch. That’s going to become the hot ticket within the next year or two, and shiny new Bryce Harper jerseys will be hanging in closets next to dust gathering Ovechkin jerseys.

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