On the ice, the Buffalo Sabres have been one of the steadiest teams in the National Hockey League since their formation in 1970. Though the Sabres have never won the Stanley Cup, they’ve made the playoffs 29 times, and their current coach, Lindy Ruff, has been in charge since 1997, which makes him the longest-tenured coach by far in a league in which turnover on the bench is common.
The Sabres haven’t been so stable off the ice, however. The franchise was sold in January to billionaire Terrence Pegula, which marked the third ownership change in the last 15 years. This one wasn’t as traumatic as the previous two — the Sabres almost didn’t make payroll in late 1997, shortly before they were sold to John Rigas, and were nearly bought by groups that would have moved the team once Rigas was indicted on embezzlement charges in 2002 — but there will be some changes for Sabres fans in 2011-12 in the form of higher ticket prices.
The Sabres announced late last week that they will raise season ticket prices by about 5 percent for next year, with seats costing between $1 and $4 more than they did this year. According to a statement released by the team, the “…increase is necessary for the Sabres to keep pace with league-wide revenues and ensure they are able to continue qualifying for NHL revenue sharing.”
Generally speaking, the biggest price hikes are for the seats that were already the most expensive. Seats that increase by $1 include those in 300 Level II, III and IV (from $29 to $30 for Level II and $22 to $23 for III and IV). Seats that go up by $2 are located in 300 Level I (from $39 to $41), 100 Level IV (from $34 to $36) and 100 Level III (from $39 to $41).
There will be $3 increases in 100 Level II (from $51 to $54), 100 III Rink (from $55 to $58) and 100 II Rink (from $67 to $70). And the $4 increases will take place in 100 Pref (from $65 to $69), 100 Pref Rink (from $83 to $87), 200 Ends (from $71 to $75) and 200 Club (from $88 to $92).
In the release, the Sabres also noted their average season ticket price for next year, $44.85, will be $16 cheaper than the NHL average and rank 23rd overall. The Sabres have not yet released single-game ticket prices.
Despite playing in one of the smaller American markets in professional sports and in an area in which the economy was struggling even before the nationwide recession (the unemployment rate in Buffalo was 6.6 percent in 2005, well above the New York state average of 5.0 percent), the Sabres have been an increasingly popular attraction at 18,690-seat HSBC Arena since it opened for the 1996 season. The Sabres have averaged below 16,000 fans per game just three times in 14 seasons in the building and more than 18,000 fans per game in each of the last five years, including a sellout average in 2006-07, a beyond-capacity average of 19,950 in 2007-08 and 18,542 for the just-concluded season.