Madison Square Garden was hoping to have two renovated teams to roll out next month along with its first phase of a renovated “World’s Most Famous Arena.” And while the NBA lockout will keep Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and the New York Knicks from seeing the Garden floor for a while, the New York Rangers, who have added free agent playmaker Brad Richards, will hit the ice in October at a not-so-new, but improved and pricier MSG.
The first of three summer-long renovations of MSG, at a total cost of $850 million, are nearly complete but will push the Rangers home opener to October 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, after they open in Europe and continue the extended road trip back in the states. With its two Garden tenants making the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1997, and with the renovations running about $350 million more than originally expected, MSG last spring announced significant price increases on Rangers and Knicks season tickets.
Knicks season tickets went up an average of 49 percent, and as much as 100 percent for some premium tickets, while Rangers season tickets saw an increase of about 23 percent. What has that meant for ticket sales heading into the season? Brokers say Knicks sales have been flattened by the uncertainty surrounding the NBA season while the long wait for the Rangers opener hasn’t helped their buzz.
“We have seen a noticeable decline in year-to-date sales for both the Knicks and Rangers,” said Leor Zahavi, founder and CEO of New York ticket broker Admit One.
Russ D’Souza, founder of the data-driven ticket search site Seatgeek.com, said his metrics have the Rangers running 10th in the 30-team NHL, at an average of about $100 a game. Seatgeek’s hottest NHL tickets, at nearly $200 a game? The Maple Leafs and the return of the NHL’s Jets after a 15-year absence to Winnipeg, where the former Atlanta Thrashers are moving.
“Individual single-game matchups really drive Rangers sales,” D’Souza said. “Rangers-Devils has become really big and Rangers-Flyers always does well.”
As for the revamped Rangers, Richards left the Dallas Stars to sign a nine-year, $60 million deal with New York. He strengthens a core that could be primed for a Stanley Cup run and includes goalie Henrik Lundqvist, winger and team captain Ryan Callahan and defenseman Marc Staal.
The summertime closing of the Garden helped drive MSG second-quarter earnings down by 39 percent, the company said last week. The questionable NBA season can’t be helping. The New York sports mecca could see losses of $1 million a night if the work stoppage cancels games. “With the NBA, it’s really out of sight, out of mind,” D’Souza said, adding that Knicks sales were strong in last season’s playoff run.
With the signing of Stoudemire last off-season, the late-season acquisition of Anthony, and the Rangers’ success fueling the end of the dual playoff drought, MSG tried to time the news of the price increases right last spring and soften the blow by pointing out that it hadn’t raised prices in six years. Also, MSG trumpted the fact that the renovated Garden would not require personal seat licenses (PSLs), the one-time payment of thousands of dollars for the right to buy season tickets. The NFL’s New York Jets and Giants PSL requirement caused a bit of fan backlash, as did the MSG price increases.
“We hope there’s no sticker shock,” Scott O’Neil, president of MSG Sports told the New York Times at the time. “We think it’s fair.” The Garden will offer almost as many ticket price ranges as it does players. There are 17 different prices for Rangers tickets and 20 for the Knicks.
Among the renovations, the Garden’s lower bowl will have a completely different configuration. There will be wider concourses, some offering windows with city views, upgraded suites and party decks where “you can stand and eat and see the game and not be in a suite,” MSG President and CEO Hank Ratner told the Times.
Certain premium seat-holders will have access to two new clubs. The highest of the high-end seats? Twenty courtside suites that include bathrooms and fireplaces. All are sold out at nearly $1 million a year.
The higher prices will be reflected in the secondary market.
“Our market makers have analyzed the risks associated with the new pricing and made adjustments to both [Rangers and Knicks] portfolios,” Zahavi said.
The food is getting an upgrade, too. Burgers and dogs are making way for swanky chefs selling gourmet chicken sandwiches, lobster and shrimp rolls. To those that run MSG, it’s no longer just a hockey or basketball game, it’s “an experience.”
“We have the most passionate and knowledgeable fans in the world and it’s our intent and plan to manage a transparent and smooth seat relocation process – maintaining similar sightlines and upgrading experiences,” O’Neil said in the press release announcing the price increases.