I was glad I was sitting when I read a quote from a Blackhawks official in the Sun-Times the other morning. Glad, also, that I didn’t have any cereal in my mouth.
“Our tickets are too expensive,” said Jamie Spencer, the Hawks’ vice president of revenue.
That’s a head-exploding statement from a high-ranking employee of a professional sports franchise, an enterprise whose main goal, besides winning a championship, is making as much money as possible. And I’m guessing that money is the reason for being for any person with the title of vice president of revenue, the way oxygen might be a big deal for the senior director of breathing.
But more amazing than the quote is that it was in response to what the Hawks recently announced – that, after listening to fans, they were indeed lowering ticket prices on 84% of the seats at the United Center. The reductions are expected to be modest, though some tickets could be cut by as much as 20%.
The stated reason behind the markdown is that, with the organization about to go through a rebuild, at least a few years of losing are sure to ensue. And team officials, after listening to fans during months of research, realized that that wasn’t going to fly if they wanted to keep the arena stocked with money carrying human beings. Attendance already had been dipping. So it’s not as if the Hawks are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.
Plenty of fans were disgusted with the way the team ignored the sexual assault of one of its top prospects. The scandal and the hit to its once-lofty reputation had to have played a role in the price reduction. But it really doesn’t matter what the rationale for it is.
Teams talk a good game about loving their fans, but they often treat them like pack mules whose sole purpose is to transport saddlebags of cash to corporate coffers. The Cubs are embarking on their second rebuild in about a decade yet still have one of the highest prices in baseball for “game-day experience.” According to Time2Play, an online gambling site, the average price of a general-admission ticket, parking, two beers and a hot dog at Wrigley Field in 2021 was $110.17. If you’re going to a game, I pray you don’t have a family of six.
Whatever happens with the Bears and a stadium, whether it be a new facility in Arlington Heights or a better deal at Soldier Field, you can bet all you’re worth that you’ll be paying a ton more for tickets in the future. That’s just the way it is. Kings make plans. Loyal subjects fund those plans.
If a team is going through a rebuild – and that’s been all the rage the past 10 to 20 years in American professional sports – fans should be protected. Athletes have agents. Collectively, they have unions that bargain for them against the big, bad owners. But fans have nobody. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?
They do, of course, have the ultimate power. They can decide not to attend games. Some Hawks fans have taken their money and stayed home. But most fans can’t help themselves. They want to be where the action is. Franchises count on that urge.
If fans understood the weight they carried, if they understood that all they had to do was click their ruby slippers together, they might get teams to knock it off with the highway robbery. But if you’ve seen the giddiness people bring to a stadium on game day, you know how magnetic the draw is. Maybe you’ve felt it. I mentioned earlier that fans need to be protected. They need to be protected from themselves, too.
Six years after winning a World Series that ended a century plus of fruitlessness, the Cubs should still be the toast of Chicago. But they’re not. They thought they had a lifetime license to print money. They continue to think that, even as they slash their player payroll and settle in for a few more years of planned losing.
Now, I realize that lowering ticket prices is good PR for a team. The Cubs had a price decrease for some seats this season, and I’d like to think it’s because they realized that the perception of them as money-grubbing is the main perception of them these days. But I don’t recall anyone in the organization uttering the words, “Our tickets are too expensive.” There’s a decent chance that would be punishable by death.
Maybe the Cubs should hire whatever research firm the Hawks used. They’d find out the same thing: Fans are angry.