“We sat through the last lockout and actually moved to the front row of [Section] 408 as a ‘reward’ for staying through the fire sale, the last lockout and the painful Caps rebuilding process that followed,” Piperni, 36, said. “But enough is enough.”
The Capitals have approximately 14,000 season ticket holders and a waiting list of roughly 3,000. So far, there have been “very few” cancellations during the lockout, according to Monumental Sports and Entertainment spokesman Kurt Kehl, and any canceled tickets have been made available to those on the waiting list.
Given the current economic climate, along with eroding attention spans and vanishing goodwill, O’Hara believes that any approach taken to win back fans this time around will require more than simply thanking them for sticking with the NHL.
“There will have to be financial incentive for fans to come back, whether free tickets, events, products,” O’Hara said. “However they do it, it’s got to be authentic, real, and hit the wallet of the ticket buyer.”
Fans aren’t alone in feeling betrayed; companies that hold sponsorships and corporate ticket packages look to maximize the return on their investments. Sponsorship deals include relief clauses for the work stoppage, but that hardly addresses the full concerns of business partners.
In early November, Molson Coors CEO Peter Swinburn told the Canadian Press that the lockout was one of the reasons the company’s beer sales fell in Canada, and that the NHL’s largest sponsor will seek financial compensation from the league once the dispute is resolved.
In 2011, the NHL signed a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC to broadcast games, marking the high-point for a league that was without a cable partner following the 2004-05 lockout. Even if this season is lost to the stoppage, NBC will pay the NHL the $200 million rights fee.
It seemed to be a positive fit for both the sport and network. NHL viewership increased 52 percent in the first year of that deal according to Nielsen, but that momentum along with the publicity provided by two consecutive years of HBO’s ‘24/7’ series documenting the run-up to the Winter Classic has been thwarted.
As companies look to trim costs, ticket and suite purchases for sporting events are under greater scrutiny. Spotlight TMS helps roughly 3,000 companies manage corporate ticket purchases. According to CEO Tony Knopp, a quarter of those businesses are seeking to reduce their budget. The lockout could make it an easy decision for companies to not re-up on a block of seats or luxury suites.
“Business continues, whether it does for the NHL or not. Competition among corporations continues, and so no company is sitting around, waiting to entertain customers until the NHL comes back,” said Knopp, whose company also works directly with eight NHL teams to help manage corporate sales.
“The overall amount being spent hasn’t changed, according to our data, they’re just spending it elsewhere,” Knopp said. “The league is playing Russian roulette with this, because who’s to say those companies will be there when hockey comes back?”