NHL executives fret over season ticket sales as players’ payroll deficit hits $1 billion, signalling flat-cap future

NHL executives fret over season ticket sales as players’ payroll deficit hits $1 billion, signalling flat-cap future

The prospect of a full NHL season with fans in the stands is buoying hopes for a significant — and needed — financial boost next year, but league executives are raising concerns over a vital driver of revenue: season tickets.

Despite a new national TV deal in the U.S. and increased sponsorship opportunities thanks to the widespread legalization of sports gambling, the NHL remains heavily dependent on the box office, which is why ticket sales — particularly of season packages — are a focus heading into 2021-22.

“I think you’ll see everyone selling out to start the season. There’s an appetite and want for live sports, live events — sports and concerts — so in October and November, it’ll be easy to sell. People have been cooped up for two seasons; they want to see games,” one team executive said. “But I am worried, frankly, about the December (numbers) and after that. People missed live events, but I also think people started to notice they didn’t miss going to 41 live events in a season.”

Executives of several teams interviewed by The Athletic said they have seen a dip in sales of full-season packages. While the overall appetite for tickets hasn’t dropped dramatically, they said, the types of packages in demand have changed.

Multiple teams have had a higher percentage of partial season-ticket plans sold — 10- or 20-game packages for example — as opposed to full-season tickets.

“I’ve noticed we have people that were a longtime full-season ticket holder that have opted to go to a smaller plan,” another executive said. “It’s still a customer. It’s still captured dollars, but it’s concerning to me.

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