The past weekend’s men’s Gold Medal final in ice hockey at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games was one for the record books. The tournament’s rematch between Canada and the U.S. (the U.S. won the first game earlier in the week with a score of 5-3) drew 27.6 million viewers on this side of the border. This made it the most watched hockey game here since the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980, in which the U.S. beat the USSR. Over 16 million Canadian viewers tuned for last Sunday’s game, which turns out to be about half the country.
However, as the National Hockey League resumes regular season play this week, the U.S.’s fourth favorite team sport still seems to be having trouble finding its footing in the years following its 2004-2005 lockout and subsequent slump. Just this season, the nearly bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes charged opening night fans bargain basement prices in a desperate effort to create a sellout situation.
And while the NHL is not immune to the economic factors contributing to problems with NBA and NFL ticket sales, the league just doesn’t pull in the kind of audiences that other major league sports do.
With such fan response to the Olympics’ blockbuster tournament, and particularly its final, could it be that some of the magic will rub off on the NHL? Has fan interest in purchasing tickets grown because of the great publicity the Games gave to the sport and its players?
History certainly isn’t on the side of a post-Olympics bump in ticket sales. Even following the U.S.’s Gold Medal win in 1980, a feat that has reached mythic proportions in American culture, there was no appreciable increase in fan interest in the sport. Over the years, ticket sales haven’t experienced any sustained jump following the Olympic games.
Jason Berger, president of All Shows hasn’t seen a difference in sales in the days following the Gold Medal match: “Right now, we haven’t seen any change at all. It is probably too soon to tell, but we haven’t seen any change.”
Zach Anderson, chief operating officer of TicketCity, has seen a slight bump in ticket sales this week, but he suspects this change is celebrity-driven.
“The only noticeable difference since [the] Olympics has been a slight increase in demand for Sabres tickets. That’s likely home and away fans wanting to see Buffalo goalie and U.S. Team goalie, Ryan Miller,” Anderson said.
He does see a general increase in demand for NHL tickets this season, but he notes that fans seem to be looking for cheaper tickets. “For the season, we’re seeing a lot more NHL orders than a year ago, but the dollars on those orders are a lot smaller. It seems the demand in NHL right now is for the least expensive ticket options, as opposed to the NBA where we’ve seen stronger demand for better seats.”
Cortney Storsved, Director of Operations for Ticket King of Minnesota, shares her perspective from deep in the heart of hockey country: “We’ve definitely seen a bump in [NHL team] Minnesota Wild ticket sales for the post-Olympics games. We’re located in the middle of a large hockey market, but between all of the changes within the Minnesota Wild organization and the current economic climate, it’s been a rough NHL year sales-wise,” she said.
Storsved added, “The Olympics seemed to have really revved up fan interest in the team – they are super excited for the Wild to come back this weekend, we’re almost out of tickets for Sunday’s game.”