A crowd of about 4,000 – up 40 percent from last year – enjoyed family activities and watched a prospects scrimmage at the Carolina Hurricanes’ Summerfest event earlier this month.
“I wish I could have a Summerfest every other week,” said team President Don Waddell.
The Hurricanes have since entered a period of one or two months where their name won’t be spoken much, but that hasn’t diluted ticket sales, which have been surging throughout the offseason in spite of the team’s league-worst attendance last season.
Compared with this time last year, new season-ticket package sales are up about 40 percent and overall ticket sales revenue is up about 60 percent, Waddell estimated on Monday.
Waddell also said the team’s existing season-ticket member renewal rate stands at 90.15 percent. Last summer, the team achieved an 87 percent renewal rate but didn’t do so until September, and only about 72 percent renewed the previous summer.
“Every summer, we’ve been chasing our old business all summer,” Waddell said. “This year, because we kept our prices flat … our renewals went much better than anyone could’ve hoped. Now our full sales team … (has) been able to work on bringing new customers and new fans into the fold.”
After increasing the number of sales department employees from eight to 32 last year and maintaining that staff this year, Waddell said the team has been able to reach a lot more people.
They’ve taken other steps to include feedback from ticket holders, as well. Friday night home games next season will be at 7:30 instead of 7 to accommodate fans traveling from work, and the number of complimentary tickets distributed has been greatly reduced in order to steady the market value of a standard ticket.
Ticket prices were held close to what they were in 2015-16. Plans are available for 21 differently priced sections of the arena, but the cost of a full-season seat at center ice rose marginally from $115 to $119 per game and a full-season seat in the upper-level “Fan Zone” went from $15 to $16 per game.
It all comes amid concerns about the Hurricanes’ attendance and financial viability in Raleigh.
Carolina averaged an NHL-low 12,203 fans per game in 2015-16 – down from 17,386 in 2006-07, and filling only 65.3 percent of PNC Arena capacity – and owner Peter Karmanos’ finances have been scrutinized because of an intra-family lawsuit issue and his ongoing campaign to sell a share of the ownership.
When Waddell attended a luncheon with a number of local CEOs earlier this summer, the first question he fielded was about the franchise’s commitment to its current market. Rumors of a relocation to Quebec, Canada, have also swirled since Karmanos’ public announcement of his buyer search two years ago.
They’re not shocking numbers, but at least everything is trending in the right direction.
Canes president Don Waddell on ticket sales
The Hurricanes, and more recently NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, have shot down such speculation, citing a profitable lease at PNC Arena as one stabilizing economic factor. Nonetheless, Waddell recognizes that the chatter won’t stop until attendance visibly improves, and that the team must end its ongoing seven-year postseason drought in order for that to happen.
“Everybody’s talking about our young core ‘D.’ People who come to games, pay a lot of money, want to have hope. Right now, I think people are feeling that,” he said, noting the Hurricanes’ 15-point improvement last season and the much-discussed success of young defensemen Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.
“The season-ticket base is really going to grow once we prove to the fence-sitters that we are a playoff-bound team.”
In the meantime, a successful October start – something which has perennially eluded the Hurricanes in the past – will be critical to an attendance surge in-season. With the team’s first six and eight of their first 10 games on the road, Waddell expects prospective fans “sitting on the bench” to be watching closely as they mull buying a ticket plan.
And even for those not considering a package, on-ice success can have a major impact on how many non-season ticket members purchase individual-game tickets during the season. Gameday and walkup sales constitute 10percent to 12 percent of attendance, but Waddell hopes to eventually get that number into the “20 percent range.”
He’s encouraged by the trend last season, when the team averaged 13,134 fans per game after New Year’s Eve compared to just 10,760 in games (excluding the sold-out season opener) before that holiday, and hopes to continue the momentum into 2016-17.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, don’t let me kid you, but we’ve got to start someplace,” Waddell said. “They’re not shocking numbers, but at least everything is trending in the right direction.”