The Price is Right?

The EIHL have got us over a barrel when it comes to play-off weekend ticket prices says Paul Balm.

You’ll have to forgive me if this article seems a bit out of date. It’s just that I’ve been a bit… what’s the word?… distracted over the last week or so. I can’t for the life of me remember why but it’s meant that some things have been somewhat delayed and this is one of them. I think it’s still fairly relevant and I need the writing practice so I’m going to talk about play-off tickets anyway. It’ll probably be a test of my self-restraint as well because I feel like I’ve got to tread a very fine line here. I don’t want to upset too many people straight off the bat but, at the same time, I don’t want to give the powers that be in the EIHL any ideas either.

Like death and taxes (or just death if you’re Gary Barlow) some things in life are guaranteed and people moaning about the price of play-off tickets is one of them. You can probably add moaning about the number of seats allocated as well but we’ll leave that for next year, suffice to say that the number of fans from any one team at the play-offs is not based on the number of seats they’re allocated, more that the number of seats allocated is based on the number likely to attend. That’s why Nottingham and Sheffield get more blocks than Edinburgh or Dundee (or wherever, other EIHL teams are available).

So, people have been moaning about the price of a ticket for the whole weekend. As I write this the price of that ticket is £78 pounds (at least that’s what Jono tells me I owe him, he doesn’t know I’m going to pay him entirely in 50p coins though) and that’s a lot of money for what you get. I’ve seen people saying it works out at £19.50 a game which, I suppose, for an end of season finale event isn’t too bad. I doubt FA Cup final tickets are that similar in price to a normal football ticket (I could be wrong though). The thing is that one of those games is the 3rd v 4th place game and I’m sorry, for me, that isn’t worth £1.95. I think what I’m trying to say, in my usual roundabout way, is that I think play-off tickets are overpriced.

The thing is, and the more observant of you will have noticed this already, I’m sure, is that even though I’ve said I think the tickets are over-priced I’ve got one (if it’s not already on eBay following the 50p comment). That’s where my, and a lot of other people’s, argument falls down. If you moan about something being over-priced and still buy it you haven’t got a leg to stand on really. And the EIHL know this. So, I can’t complain about the ticket price but that doesn’t mean that I can’t look at the people who say the price should be lower and wonder what controlled substance they’re on.

The price of the play-offs as things currently stand is never going to drop. Never. Not in a month of Sundays, not even once in a very blue moon. OK? Got that? Want to know why I’m so sure? Simple. It (more or less) sells out. Why, when the league can fill the Motorpoint Arena are they going to drop their prices? They’re not. It really is that simple. Ok, we’ve seen in this last week that some of the business decisions made by owners in this league can be, shall we say, a little ill conceived, but the play-offs is the EIHL’s (rather than the clubs themselves) big money spinner. If the arena was half full then yes they’d be crazy NOT to reduce their prices but if it’s selling out then there’s no incentive for them to do it. Even then there might be mitigating circumstances for why it didn’t sell out. Has there ever been a play-offs where either the Panthers or the Steelers didn’t make the play-off weekend? I can’t remember if there has been so I can’t say how big a difference that would make to the attendance, but I’m guessing it would be fairly large.

Basically, it’s simple. What little I remember of ‘A’ level economics tells me that as price decreases demand increases until the two lines meet (well cross really). When the lines meet it means that you’ve found your sweet spot – where supply and demand meet. That’s where the play-off tickets pricing is right now. Supply and the price it’s provided at currently meet demand.

It’s not that simple though. Like most theories of this type they are by their very nature theoretical and the real world has a habit of getting in the way and whilst it doesn’t exactly ruin them they do twist them slightly. The first real world problem is that the supply of seats at the NIC is finite. The clubs can’t reap the benefits of increased sales through decreased prices (something a lot of clubs, including our own don’t understand for games when they know there’ll be a large number of empty seats at normal price) because there are no extra seats to sell. At the moment this isn’t that much of a factor, tickets aren’t that scarce at the moment but the clubs know what is going on, know how many tickets are being sold (how do you think they work out which team needs how many blocks?) and they also know that they can nudge the price a bit higher because of why we’re there.

That’s the second problem with the theory. It doesn’t really work for addictions. A drug addict will pay more and more for the same thing. That throws the whole theory of demand dropping as price increases out the window. Whether we like it or not we are addicts when it comes to ice hockey. We’re there week in week out regardless of the quality of the product. The clubs know this and they know that they can exploit it. Tickets where I sit week in week out cost £18. Is every game I watch from those seats worth that? Probably (almost certainly) not but I pay that price because I want to watch it. If the price went up I’d almost certainly still be there watching. There has to be a point where I would say that’s too much but I’m not sure what that is and a lot of that is to do with the fact that the cost and what I get aren’t the only thing I consider when I decide whether I pay or not. This isn’t the same as buying baked beans where I have to balance the cost and flavour of Tesco Value against Heinz. I’m not about to turn around and say “ooh look Steelers haven’t put their prices up this season I’ll start watching them”. We’re trapped essentially, we can’t go anywhere else to get everything that supporting our club gives us so we stay where we are and put up with the price increases.

This is no advert for the EIHL though. There are plenty of things that are wrong with the play-offs that should have been addressed years ago. Like every player (with the possible exception of Jeff Christian) at the weekend I’ve got no interest in the 3rd v 4th play-off game whatsoever. What’s the point of a game where the winners are the team who sobers up first? Then there’s the lack of any sort of sparkle or razzamatazz around the whole thing. This is the showpiece event of the season, the climax of the previous seven months and yet beyond a medal ceremony after the final the games pass off with all the pomp and circumstance of a midweek dead rubber in the Challenge Cup.

Why should they do more though? They know we’ll turn up.

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