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Thrashers Try Flex Seating Prices - Do These Things Work?

The Panthers have a "name your own price" season ticket promotion, and several teams charge a premium when premium teams come to visit. Will the Thrashers' new sales strategy translate into box office dollars?

ATLANTA - APRIL 10:  The Atlanta Thrashers starting lineup is introduced before they face the Pittsburgh Penguins at Philips Arena on April 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - APRIL 10: The Atlanta Thrashers starting lineup is introduced before they face the Pittsburgh Penguins at Philips Arena on April 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It's getting closer and closer to that time hockey fans call "Christmas in September" - the delivery of our season tickets. Some fans, myself included, have been paying on them since March to take advantage of the eight-month payment option that the sales department has so graciously worked out for us. Others might have ventured to the select-a-seats that are held periodically over the off-season. Regardless of when you bought them, or what section you bought them for, getting that box and looking at the new season's tickets is like seeing that present that you wanted all year under the tree. It's a promise of a new season, and with the latest additions to the team, it's actually got some hope attached this year.

The Thrashers have lowered ticket costs for their season ticket holders (and in general) by about 35 percent for this season, re-tooling the placement of their cheapest $10 seats to the tops of the ends of Philips Arena, and to the tops of the 300 sections. The season ticket holders already get a discount off of the face value of their seats (mine is approximately 70 percent off for one of the $999 season tickets in the 100s), and various promotions are offered throughout the year to make it affordable to go to a game. The discounted $999 season ticket promotion worked so well that they extended it back several rows into the 200s. Often, sections 107-109 were the most full in the arena during weeknight games. The other promotions run during the season were still unable to fill the seats for those Tuesday night games versus the Lightning. What to do, what to do?

In a move that the ticket sales department feels will bring in both fans and revenue, they decided to try out "dynamic pricing" this year. Simply put, games on Friday and Saturday nights will cost more than a game on a Wednesday. Games against big ticket draws like the Penguins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, and presumably Canadian opponents will also draw a premium over games against teams such as Phoenix, Florida, and the Islanders. Heck, they might even take it so far to tweak the pricing at the box office window based on things such as weather and total tickets sold to that point.

Basically, if you go to the Philips box office on a rainy Tuesday night for a matchup between the Thrashers and the Panthers, you're going to get in cheap.

Of course, just how much a ticket is going to be discounted will upset some season ticket holders as it does every year. Some game tickets are discounted more deeply with promotions than the season tickets are. To that I say, well, they need the money and they want the people buying concessions. They already have you suckered in, and other people are obviously harder to sell to. If you want your team to succeed they need to make money, so calm down.

The nice people in sales apparently also completely called this usual grumbling. I received this e-mail in my inbox yesterday morning (always good to receive something titled "Letter Regarding Your Season Tickets." I thought they were revoking them or they'd burned up in a freak accident or something):

When you receive your tickets, you will notice that this year, the prices printed on your game tickets are not identical, but rather vary depending upon the game. Variable pricing is something that you've most likely become familiar with in a variety of industries, like air travel, for example. The price for the same seat on the same plane changes depending upon the time of year, the travel destination and the demand for a spot on that flight. Similarly, some Thrashers games are in higher demand with the general public than others and, most likely, are more popular with your business associates, friends and family too.

This season, we are recognizing this difference in demand by printing different prices on your season tickets to better reflect the value placed on each game. For example, the price listed on your tickets for our Saturday night game versus the Blackhawks is higher than the price printed on your tickets for one of our Monday night games versus a non-Stanley Cup Championship-winning team.

The varying of prices listed on your tickets does not affect your overall season ticket package price; rather it affects how the price of your overall season ticket packages is allocated to each game. The total price for your season ticket(s) has not changed.

Well, apparently they want to nip this whole season ticket brou-ha-ha in the bud now, hence the bold text (it was bolded in the e-mail, not by me).

Variable pricing also better aligns the price printed on your tickets with the single game prices. Most importantly, variable pricing guarantees that the price you pay as a valued Thrashers Season Ticket Holder will always be better than the price available to the general public for that location for each game.

Well, then. This might be the most effective explanation of the new pricing system yet. Also, it will be hilarious to hear people around me who are Blackhawks fans complain that they paid $100 for their tickets while I paid $25.

Obviously, when you raise ticket prices for in-demand teams you're raising revenue. I have an odd feeling that the increased revenue from ticket sales for these games plus the decreased revenue from the weeknight games against non-"premium" opponents will turn out to be a wash. It's not a complicated pricing scheme at all, but people won't notice the flex pricing for the weeknight games thanks to a decided lack of marketing, and honestly - is pricing the problem? Is it the reason that the Thrashers' attendance was near the bottom of the league last season? Of course not. Again, allow me to reiterate the usual call to common sense - win games, and people will come regardless of the price. You have to fix the product before anyone cares about the price. This year, will the product be fixed? Probably so. Will the price make much of a difference in the long run? Decidedly not.

It's inventive, and it's not as embarrassing as the Panthers' "tickets for Florida drivers licenses" promotion. But in the end, this season, I don't think that the flex pricing will put any extra coin in the team's pocket. Put pucks in the net, and then count your cash.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.