As a live experience at least, NHL hockey has become opera.
The ACC is now a playground of the well-to-do, or those looking to try on that lifestyle for an evening.
It’s been so for years, but that didn’t stop a great civic grumbling when the cost of Maple Leafs’ playoff tickets was announced this week.
Tickets in the lower bowl jumped to the $315-$800 range from $180-$450. That’s north of a 70 per cent hike. The worst seat in the house will cost you about $80 in the post-season.
This glosses over the more salient point that you can’t get hold of the tickets even if you have the money. There were only 750 of them for sale on Thursday morning. As the clock ticked over to the crucial moment, the ordering portal crashed.
Ticketmaster and MLSE later issued cringing apologies, though they might best have tried, ‘It’s not like we have a lot of practice at this.’
Fans raged online, though it was too late in any event.
If you’re only jumping on board at this point then, like all proper rich people, you need to know someone.
When I was a kid, my mother would take my brother and I to the Gardens a couple of times a year. I have no idea what it cost. It couldn’t have been much. We didn’t have any money.
It would never have occurred to us to ask to go to a playoff game. We understood at least that much about household economics.
Then and now, the only sports venues that welcome all classes are the ones that need to fill seats, as the Gardens did in the 1970s and 80s.
There are no social egalitarians running capacity arenas. Fair enough.
If MLSE has a philosophic playbook, it’s The Wealth of Nations rather than The Hockey Sweater. That’s the reason they’re a billion-dollar enterprise.
It’s also fair to point out that the Leafs don’t fully control the final cost to consumers. Were they to slash face values tomorrow, they’d only be transferring their own profits to the resale market. Unless the Leafs undertake a system of rigid price control — one buyer, one non-transferrable pass — the tickets are always going to cost a fortune.
The question isn’t should they be allowed to charge so much, but rather, is it smart business to do so? Is it in the Leafs’ long-term interests to make decent seats to watch their product a perk of the professional classes and above?
According to Illinois-based Team Marketing Report, going to a regular-season Leafs’ game is far and away the most expensive night out in the NHL. Based on their Fan Cost Index (a hodge podge of tickets, nibblies and souvenirs for a family of four), it’ll run Mom about $625. The Canadiens, second on the list, lag well behind at $486.
The largely static median income of a Toronto family hovers around $68,000 (this excludes singles). Doing a very rough after-tax calculation, that suggests that one visit to the ACC can put a Toronto family back two-thirds of a week’s pay.
However you pro-rate it, 600 bucks would not have flown in my childhood home, and I imagine it crash-lands in yours as well. Kids need shoes more than they need the smell of the rink.
It suggests that a generation of lower working-class and middle-class kids are growing up in this city having never seen NHL hockey on the stage. Their range of experience is limited in many other ways as well. Some would suggest that supplies life’s propellant — aspiration.
But MLSE isn’t a luxury goods store or the right school. The appeal of its product is based in populism. In order for their key business to be successful, everyone has to care about the Leafs.
The modern 10-year-old has many more sports-shopping options than my generation, or the couple sandwiched just after. All of them can be consumed electronically. All of them are easy to access.
Going to games as a child cuts out many of those alternatives. It cements the relationship between a fan and their hometown club.
Given that one TV-based alliance is theoretically like any other, what’s to stop this generation from developing the bonds of fandom with another team or another sport?
That’s the calculation driving the huge value of franchises like Manchester United or the Yankees. They want to be everyone’s hometown team, attendance not compulsory. The only cost of admittance to that tribe is the cost of a jersey or a hat.
What the Leafs are counting on at this point is the cultural gravity of hockey itself. While some Canadians may not care for the game, it would be taboo to write off the sport in company. Being Canadian means, at the least, accepting how much it matters to your countrymen.
It may be that a society-wide appreciation and civic loyalty may be enough to keep the generations coming back to a team they can no longer afford to watch in person.
It’s certainly working so far.
If they’re wrong, then the tickets will get cheap awful fast.
WIN: Leafs playoff tickets
HOW: Wear your best ‘blue and white’ and show Metro’s photographer your passion for the Leafs.
WHEN: Monday, April 29, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Gate 1 at the Air Canada Centre.
WHY: The most passionate fan will be featured on the front page of Metro the day of the 1st playoff game and receives 2 playoff tickets. 4 runners-up receive gift packs from Real Sports Apparel that include Leaf jerseys.
WHAT: The first 500 fans to show us their love for the Leafs qualify. See full rules and regulations at clubmetro.com