For more than a decade, the Blackhawks basically only needed to offer tickets to sell tickets.
But that is changing.
Their legendary streak of sold-out sales has faded, although attendance has remained relatively strong. With the impending on-ice rebuild presaging at least a few more years of losing hockey, getting fans to the United Center won’t be easier.
The Hawks are not unaware of this reality. After months of surveys, studies, focus groups, conversations, brainstorming and fresh ideas, they unveiled a new subscription program on Wednesday – focusing on the “membership” aspect, designed to offer fans more than just a ticket for each Game.
They hope the program will maintain the energetic atmosphere and relatively large crowds throughout this transitional era. They also hope it will initiate a new relationship between the franchise, which seems to realize that its previous brand of selling exclusivity and elitism no longer flies, and its fans.
“The fans built this program,” Hawks business president Jaime Faulkner told The Sun-Times.
“They don’t hesitate to tell us what interests them. We listened and incorporated all of their feedback, or as much as we could, into this membership program. We hope they will be happy. We hope they will see this program and say, ‘Yes, you heard what we said, and you did.’
There’s one aspect of the new ticketing program that fans will inevitably care about the most: price. And on that front, Jamie Spencer — the Hawks’ new vice president of revenue — wants to say something very clear.
“They told us, we heard them, we researched them and we agree with them,” he said. “Our tickets are too expensive.
Thus, 84% of places will be cheaper next season. Another 9% will stay about the same, leaving only 7% more expensive. The plans also no longer require the purchase of tickets for pre-season games, further reducing the cost.
The lack of uniformity stems from an overhaul of the United Center seating chart, doubling the number of different “price zones” from 16 to 32. Previous zones often grouped seats with different actual values, such as lower rows and higher in a given section. ; the new areas are more specific to the actual value of each seat.
“We have all the data, we know what those consumer behaviors and insights are, and we set our pricing grid accordingly,” Spencer said. “Then we went back and added value to each seat and added benefits to it. We know what they are trading for in the secondary market, and from there we determined the optimal price for each seat. , taking into account all these factors.
The price changes will not only affect actual season ticket members, but also single match tickets (when these go on sale closer to next season) and impact resale prices. The Hawks are aware resale prices are pretty low — Stubhub tickets for Tuesday against the Kings currently start at $8, for example — and they’re hoping to remedy the problem.
Flexibility has also been improved with the addition of “Pick ‘Em” partial season plans – which allow fans to choose their games – and game swaps for full and partial season plans with game assortments predefined.
“There are two types of fans: those who want to choose their seats and know where they are going to sit, because the location of the seats is very important, and those who want to choose their games,” Spencer said. “Having these products will attract new fans and possibly create more value, because in some cases we learned that there were too many games that they could not resell or were wasted.”
Beyond the tickets themselves, memberships now offer a wide range of perquisites, including discounts on concessions, clothing and parking, access to special events and freebies and dedicated account representatives .
The Hawks hope the enhanced membership program continues the surprisingly strong attendance momentum they established this spring.
“Clearly our team is not at the top of the standings and we are not heading to the playoffs this year, but [fans] always come in droves,” Spencer said. “They continue to behave like we’re a playoff team, and that inspires us to work harder and smarter.”
After the sold-out streak ended Oct. 24 with the third home game of 2021-22 — the Hawks drew just 19,042 fans out of an official capacity of 19,717 — crowd sizes fluctuated for months. .
Some bad nights, like the generously estimated crowd of 15,946 on November 1, featured large swathes of empty seats. The Hawks averaged 17,663 fans for their third through 22nd home games.
Since the All-Star break, however, the crowds have grown. The Hawks have averaged 19,351 fans in their last 12 home games, topping 18,500 for the 12 and selling out twice (including Sunday against the Coyotes).
Spencer said this trend isn’t atypical because NHL teams “own the market more” from February to April after the end of the football season. That’s despite the Hawks being 3-6-3 in those 12 games and 11-17-6 overall at home; only the Kraken and the Canadiens have fewer home wins.
“For the most part, our fans — whether hardcore or casual — understand the state of this team and where they are from a competitive standpoint,” Faulkner said. “That didn’t stop them from showing up and either cheering on a team they like or coming out with their friends and having a good time.”
The Hawks’ season attendance average of 18,418 ranks fifth in the NHL, behind only the Lightning, Predators, Capitals and Wild (although the Golden Knights, Bruins and Kraken also sold all matches, but trail the Hawks simply due to smaller arena capacities).
That means the Hawks’ 12-game NHL title streak will come to an end this season, but they’re still “proud” to place fifth under the circumstances, Spencer said.
Looking forward to
Spencer optimistically sees “no reason why attendance would drop” next season.
Objectively, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Hawks slipped a little closer to league average – especially if Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Alex DeBrincat leave this summer during reconstruction.
On the other hand, the company’s growing comfort level with crowded events and the gradual repopulation of Downtown and the West Loop – as workers return to offices – should work in their favor. The Hawks have already benefited from “pent-up demand” for live entertainment this spring, Spencer said, as the pandemic recedes.
And the new season ticket program will hopefully further offset the inevitably negative impact of reconstruction on attendance, convincing fans on the fence not to give up their seats just yet.
“The best thing we can do is give [our fans] a winning product, and we will definitely work on that,” Faulkner said. “But until we can get back to that place, we’re going to show them a really good time when they’re there.”