A tough expansion season for the Kraken ends with the promise of what the team hopes will be better days.
Between the delays in opening Climate Pledge Arena until well after preseason, the pandemic mask and vaccination protocols imposed on fans, the inability to fully market players in public, the rescheduling of matches and the dismal results on ice, the Kraken could use an overhaul. Instead, they will wrap up the season in Winnipeg on Sunday, then hope to build on better hockey played over the past six weeks, the debut of top prospect Matty Beniers, planned player upgrades and knowing their arena and their workout facilities are fully operational minus COVID-19 restrictions.
“Our fans have been amazing from day one, and we’re grateful they’re on this remarkable journey with us,” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said Friday. “This season we’ve faced challenges we couldn’t have imagined, from Omicron to vaccinations and mask mandates to snowstorms, but we’re building something truly amazing together.”
Some glitches were unavoidable, but the Kraken’s poor on-ice play was largely a result of player choices and the strategy they’ll need to improve.
The urgency to improve was evident in the growing lack of local buzz around the team and the hundreds, sometimes thousands of empty seats among the officially ‘sold out’ Climate Pledge games. While the team was still selling a lot of merchandise, there was a significant drop in the resale value of Kraken Season Passes on online exchanges – which didn’t sit well with season pass holders locked into much pricing. higher to at least three, five and seven year commitments.
“I was selling tickets at 75% below face value to try to get rid of some games,” said Beau Schott, 42, a self-proclaimed “longtime hockey fan” living in South Lake Union who opted for a seven-year contract on two seats costing him about $13,000 a year. “Because if you try to get rid of a ticket a week before the game, you’re not going to get your money back on it. I just started listing every game, and if they didn’t sell out, I’d pull them and I would go to the game.”
Schott said he planned to attend all but one quarter and sell the rest, but he never imagined demand would drop the way it has.
“I play recreational hockey, and all the friends I know that have season tickets, I would say about 90% of them are trying to get by,” Schott said. “Some have club seats and can’t even get rid of them. They paid something like $330 per game, and they sell in the $150 range.
None of his buddies were able to get out of their contract, he said. The Kraken wouldn’t comment on season pass holders trying to break contracts early.
The team allowed Schott to move to a half-season deal, but he is still tied to the remaining six years he was originally committed to. Schott understands the contract is binding and he should have given it more thought before signing. But he thinks the Kraken could have secured at least a .500 team better, given that’s the sales pitch he’s been hearing.
“It’s always been part of the sales process,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be a competitive team. It should be easy to sell tickets. And that’s what you assumed. … You’d think from day one it was going to be a .500 team. and that she would struggle to make the playoffs, so that was a big disappointment for me, because the game just wasn’t there.
The Kraken ownership group built such anticipation two years ago before announcing their team name and selling record levels of merchandise nationwide that whatever followed would still likely be a tough act to to follow.
Additional challenges included the opening of the $1.2 billion arena, the $80 million Kraken Community Iceplex training facility, the launch of the team’s One Roof Foundation charity wing as well as the considerable work that went into landing a major new professional winter sport to fill a 13-year void left by the Sonics. ‘ Departure.
Considering all of this, plus the pandemic, it’s possible the franchise’s energy was spread too thinly. And that not enough attention was paid to ensure that the on-ice product would make as big an initial splash as the off-ice efforts in an early NHL market where fans needed to be sold in hockey.
The Kraken have indeed adopted a long-term strategy to build fans, with Leiweke adding that more than a million people will pass through the training center by his birthday this fall. Thousands of young hockey players began learning the game at the Community Iceplex, while the team held additional fan watch parties at the facility’s restaurant once it opened following pandemic shipping delays.
The team also used the lifting of COVID restrictions to start public autograph sessions with players and asked others, like injured forward Brandon Tanev, to visit schools and other venues. .
But the fans end up paying to see a good team. Instead, the Kraken were out of realistic playoff contention in December.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis has promised upgrades this summer, using some of his estimated $23 million available cap space and a plethora of future draft picks earned at the trade deadline. march to acquire players in trades, free agency or both. Francis said that at the deadline, the team is not aiming to “be good in five years” and should improve considerably.
“We have the ceiling space,” he said. “We have the money. We still plan to be quite active in free agency if we can. These are things that can help us turn the tide. »
The issue of ticket value is more serious than season ticket holders not being able to make a profit by reselling their seats online. No one likes paying $300 a night for a subscription when the person next to them only spent $150 on a single game purchase from StubHub, SeatGeek, or Ticketmaster.
Greg Cohen, a spokesperson for New York-based Ticket IQ, which uses proprietary software to track current ticket prices across 90% of the secondary market, said Friday that asking prices for Kraken seats were down 33 % at $235. , up from $352 at the start of the season. Cohen added that asking prices for tickets across the league have risen 3% on average.
The Kraken has consistently maintained the third-highest asking price in the NHL on resale platforms, although these stats do not indicate the actual price of tickets sold – amounts usually well below asking prices, especially when approaching. from the start of the game.
The majority of Kraken subscription holders purchased packages with a three-year minimum. That means the Kraken have at most a season or two to claw back in value, or risk thousands of fans dropping their tickets once contractual obligations end.
NHL teams rely heavily on ticket sales to support their operations, given that they lack the lucrative TV deals of their NFL, MLB and NBA counterparts.
The Kraken also hopes the lifting of pandemic restrictions on matches since March 12 will generate larger crowds next season and increase demand for tickets. The team said there had already been a 12% increase in tickets scanned at Climate Pledge entrances since the restrictions ended.
This may be due to fans being less afraid to go to games. In addition, fans who previously felt burdened with masks or lacking vaccinations are now present. Fewer travel restrictions also mean more fans of the visiting team – particularly crossing the border from Canada – could start showing up.
Leiweke and Francis wrote to season ticket holders in March that cost increases of 3% to 5% for next season would be reversed due to less experience this season caused by the pandemic and weather conditions. They are also committed to continuing to build a strong team, which Leiweke reiterated on Friday.
“Climate Pledge Arena is beautiful and our players have been inspired by the atmosphere created by our fans,” said Leiweke. “On the ice, we have put in place the building blocks of character players, recruiting capital, salary cap flexibility and a commitment to investing. It’s going to be a busy offseason, and our goal is to be a perennial playoff team that competes every year to win the Stanley Cup.
The holder of a Schott subscription would like nothing more than that and for the demand for tickets to increase.
“It’s obviously a honeymoon period,” Schott said. “But you know, in two years, or if the (NBA’s) Sonics come back… that’s the chance they have to take. Because if the Sonics come along and they (the Kraken) are bad, they’re going to be quickly defeated by fan support with those (casual) fans. And I want them to succeed.