TAMPA — Randy O’Connell recently received notice his Lightning season-ticket price would rise by $400 for 2019-20.
The initial renewal proved a bit of a shock, but O’Connell, however, was far from outraged about the increase for his seat in section 309.
“I honestly can’t really complain because of all the discounts we get,” O’Connell said. “I really can’t complain too much.
“The Bucs reach out to me for season tickets, and I laugh at them,” he added. “The Rays reach out to me for season tickets and I laugh at them because that’s just a joke in itself. The Lightning, that’s where it’s at.”
The Lightning has literally banked on such loyalty in the midst of its landmark season. As Tampa Bay bids for a record-setting 62 wins during its Stanley Cup or bust march, team officials quietly sent out renewal notices and playoff ticket sales for season ticket holders last month with a 10 percent increase — the same year after year price hike it’s had before — and not much fanfare.
Season ticket members saw prices change across the board with the most premium seats, the Lexus Lounge Row A, coming in at $325 per game. The cheapest of seats offered at Amalie at the Terrace Level have next season’s prices listed at $24 per game.
Victories are not the team’s only defense for the increase. The average ticket price for a Lightning game remains one of the lowest in the league, ranking 24th out of the 31 teams in the NHL. And the market has helped set the price tag.
Travis Pelleymounter, vice president of ticket sales and service, said that things have turned very analytic in terms of how season ticket prices are determined from one season to the next.
“We lean really heavily on historical data,” he said. “We also look at what tickets have sold for on the single-game market and from what we can determine on the secondary market. And then try to set fair prices based on what happened that season.”
Sellouts tamp down prices
Pelleymounter said part of the reason why the organization is able to maintain a lower ticket price is because of Amalie’s capacity and Tampa’s support. He said the attendance rate definitely plays a factor in the sense that the team is near the top of the league in total attendance. And the team makes a point of setting aside single-game tickets to keep adding to the base.
“Tampa is very supportive and we’re lucky that they’ve been coming out, filling the building for a long time,” he said.
Amalie Arena has sold out 193-consecutive games, including playoffs. The streak started when Tampa Bay took on Nashville March 23, 2015.
The Lightning set their ticket pricing so that fans get more for their dollar. Regular season ticket prices are the least expensive compared to regular season single game prices. The hierarchy continues with group ticket prices ending up more expensive than a 10-pack, half-season and eventually a whole season.
“We try not to be too influenced or biased, but at the end of the day we try to do what’s fair for the market,” Pelleymounter said. “Our philosophy is to be as fair as we can and still run a business.”
Season ticket members also get a bonus. They receive a 35 percent discount off of all merchandise purchased at Amalie Arena and 25 percent off food and beverages, including alcohol sales during the regular season. The STM discount began with the 2011-12 season and has become a staple for most ticket holders.
“We do know that has become almost an expectation from our fans and they really like it,” Pelleymounter said.
On average, STMs were saving $288 per seat on food, beverage and retail at the time their renewal emails were sent Feb. 8.
In addition to regular season tickets for the 2019-20 season, Lightning fans have the option to opt-in to their 2019 Stanley Cup playoff tickets.
Season ticket members are also looking at paying anywhere between $30 for those in the Terrace Level and $375 for those in the Lexus Lounge Row A for this year’s first round playoff tickets. Those prices will continue to jump with every round if the Lightning make it to Rounds 2, 3 and 4.
Playoff tickets for Round 2 range from $43 to $540 per game. For Round 3, the ticket prices per game range from $62 to $700 and for Round 4 the tickets are priced at $102 to $1,100 per game.
The team’s “Cheer Now, Pay Later” option gives season ticket members a chance to pay for their tickets at the end of each round instead of before each game.
On the other hand, STMs are not automatically required to attend the playoff games if they don’t have the desire to do so. They are given the chance to opt-out of this every season. But if you’re a “Bolt for Life” you are automatically opted-in to playoff tickets.
“You’re on the ride until you tell us you want off,” Pelleymounter said.
Average prices for elite product
Season ticket prices increased for next season, but Pelleymounter believes the organization is able to balance what fans need and what the business needs on a value proposition. He asks himself if fans are getting an above-average product for an average price.
“I would argue we’re at that,” he said. “They’re probably getting an elite product, right now, for what I would still consider an average price or below average price in the NHL.”
Still, fans took notice of the surge in ticket prices.
The increase surprised Carl Wagenfohr when he got his notice but he has already renewed his two seats for next season. He hopes that the increase in prices goes toward the salary cap and retaining key players like Brayden Point.
O’Connell, however, cautioned that the team risks losing fans if the price increases continue.
"It seems like they’re going to start pressing out some of their season ticket members who have been out there for a long time,” said O’Connell, 34.
For now, loyalty wins out. O’Connell hasn’t missed more than five games since 2011, when he first became a season ticket holder. And he’s not about to start. He’ll be in Section 309 for every game, and the playoffs.
“If I’m paying that kind of money for something, I’m going to be there,” he said.
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.