The success of our beloved Anaheim Ducks rests on more than just the on-ice product. Their ability to draw and sustain paying fans, form a strong bond with the community, and generate interest and excitement in the team are all critical to the long-term success of the franchise. While Anaheim hasn't had the woes of some of the other southern franchises (Tampa, Florida, and Atlanta—I'm looking at you), they did experience a precipitous drop in attendance last year. According to ESPN's year-end report, Anaheim ranked 24th in the league in attendance (just between Carolina and Florida). For me, this is cause for concern.
But how can we find ways to improve what the team is doing? We first have to get an idea of where the franchise currently stands.
Anybody who's ever taken a college-level marketing class has had the Five P's drilled into their head: Price, Product, People, Promotion, and Place. So in this, what I envision to be the first of numerous posts on the subject, I wanted to take an overall look at the franchise from a price perspective to get a sense of how the team is doing.
When people think price, they instantly think of ticket prices. While this is important (and probably the most important consideration when it comes to money), there are other prices to keep in mind: merchandise, concessions, parking, etc.
The Denver Post has put together a helpful article about the relative prices of hockey tickets around the league. Taking a quick look at this list shows the Ducks coming in at 12th and 24th in terms of individual seats for different parts of the arena. While it should be noted that these are Ticketmaster prices and do not reflect any season ticket packages or anything like that, I find it very interesting that the Ducks rank 12th for "good" seats. Coming in at 24th for "value" seats seems about right, but ranking 12th definitely seems a bit too high for a franchise that is hemorrhaging paying fans.
As a season ticket holder, I feel that the Ducks do a good job of giving me value for the prices I pay. As I've mentioned before, my wife and I have full season-tickets in Section 409, Row P. These tickets are in the Buy-2, Get-2 free program, which means our tickets average $16 per seat, per game. In my opinion, this is one of the better deals in professional sports. I've mentioned before that I'm a die-hard Padres fan, and I can assure you that $16 seats (even as a season ticket holder), do not give you the same value that you get from the Ducks.
While I can't confirm my suspicions, my guess is that merchandise is universally priced league-wide. While the Ducks do not feature as diverse a selection as other teams (a topic I'll explore more later), all of the merchandise they sell is ordered from the league. A quick look at shop.nhl.com shows that the 2010 draft hats are equally priced across all teams. That said, I do think the teams have some degree of control over their onsite prices. And here's where I think the Ducks can do better.
Shopping in the team store can be a largely hit or miss experience. I've found incredible deals on t-shirts (I still can't believe I got a signed Bobby Ryan "54" shirt for $25 a the team store), and I've also paid $100 for a sweatshirt. I want to reiterate that I have no idea just how much flexibility the team has when it comes to pricing their merchandise in-store. However, I do think they have some degree of flexibility, and it would be nice to see them come up with an affordable package that maybe included a hat and a shirt. The Padres have recently come up with such a package that gets you a hat and a shirt for $15. It would be great if Anaheim could do something like this to give newer fans a chance to get some team merch without breaking the bank.
Prices for concessions seem high at Honda Center. There's just no way to sugar-coat it. I've been going to sporting events my entire life, and I was somewhat taken aback the first time I saw how much the Ducks were charging for a burrito and a beer. As with the merchandise argument, it's unclear just how much control the team has over concessions prices. However, the arena is run by Anaheim Arena Management, a subsidiary of the Ducks, so I imagine they do have some degree of control over the prices we pay.
It will be interesting to see how the new Aramark agreement affects prices and quality of concessions at Ponda. Until then, we can rely on helpful reports from Puck Daddy and TMR to get a sense of how the Ducks stack-up against other teams in the league. A quick look at the beer index from Puck Daddy shows that the Ducks are somewhere in the mid-to-high range when it comes to beer prices (it's difficult to get a clear-cut comparison given that different teams have different beer offerings in a variety of sizes—I could go price per ounce for domestic, but I'm way too lazy for that). Perhaps the most interesting thing from the Puck Daddy report is that the Blues sell 24 oz cans (CANS!!!) for just over the price of our 16 oz premiums. The Team Marketing Report Fan Cost Index also shows that the Ducks charge a little more for their concessions than the average team.
Of all the things under their control, this is one area where the Ducks could make huge strides in making themselves more attractive to the average fan. Much has been written about the family-friendly prices Arte Moreno ushered in when he took control of the Angels, and I really don't see why the Ducks couldn't try the same approach. The media loves to cover meta stories like these, and a significant drop in beer prices (yes you would lose on profit per unit, but you'd probably make up for it in increased volume) would be favorably reported and could get the Ducks some good-will. The Padres (I hate to keep going back to the well, but they're the only other team I know really well) did the same thing this year, and attendance has finally begin to turn around for them (though the best record in the NL doesn't hurt, either). Even without changing prices, the Ducks could do one simple thing to greatly enhance the fan experience when it comes to concessions:
Let fans bring in food.
I'm not sure what the norm is when it comes to hockey, but I've always taken food into baseball games. It lets you circumvent the ridiculous prices and you can actually spend more time watching the game instead of battling the lines for food. I'm not sure if any NHL arenas permit you to bring in food, but damn, that would be a smart move.
$15 for parking seems reasonable to me. While Honda Center doesn't have the best access for public transportation, the parking lots are typically well-maintained and safe. The Ducks also let you tailgate, which is something that fewer and fewer venues are permitting these days. If I remember correctly, the Angels do charge less for parking, so that may be a turn off to some fans. But again, I come from the world of baseball, where $15 to $20 to park is the norm (AT&T Park in San Francisco charges $30!) so this cost doesn't put me off so much. Does it suck that parking is like paying for an extra ticket to the game? Sure. But if you can bring enough people along, it usually isn't too bad.
Any discussion of price and money would be incomplete without considering the overall worth of the franchise itself. Every year, Forbes publishes their report about the value of each team. As of their most recent report, Forbes valued the Ducks at $206 million, which ranks 14th behind the Kings and ahead of the Avalanche. Personally, I'm surprised that the Ducks rank that well given that we're definitely a small-market team (in hockey terms).
While not as expensive as some of the more popular teams in the NHL, the Ducks seemed to have taken the position of making hockey a somewhat premium experience. While ticket prices vary wildly depending on where you sit, the relatively high price of concessions is something that the team should address. If they were able to make some headway on concessions and offer some cheaper merchandise options, I think the Ducks could better position themselves as an affordable family experience.
One of the Ducks' biggest challenges is their location. There's just too much to do in Southern California. The Ducks really need to find a way to create value for fans to draw them to the Pond. Further complicating the Ducks' problems is that going to an Angels game IS more of a family-friendly experience. The Ducks would do well to take a lesson from their MLB brethren across Katella and figure out ways to capture that average fan. One surefire way to do that is to make some adjustments to the price of the overall Ducks experience.
What do you think? How do you think about prices in the context of the Ducks? What do you think the Ducks could do from a price perspective to help this team pack Honda Center?