When it comes to renewing his Lightning season tickets, Richard Matassa will wait and see.
The Aripeka resident said the price of his company's four seats in Section 117, Row B of the St. Pete Times Forum went from about $28,000 to just less than $30,000 for 2008-09, about a 7 percent increase.
But Matassa said his reticence is not all about money. It is about how management will try to improve the team and how owner Palace Sports & Entertainment manages the pending sale to Hollywood producer Oren Koules.
"The whole thing is very interesting, based on the product on the ice is not there and being the local economy is depressed," Matassa, 40, said. "They have a tough road to climb. Based on what they do over the summer, we'll see."
The Lightning seems to have gotten the message. According to figures provided by the team, season ticket prices for 2008-09 will generally remain flat or decrease; especially among some lower-bowl end zone seats, reduced 41.8 percent, and the cheap seats, reduced up to 33 percent.
But team spokesman Bill Wickett acknowledged prices could increase significantly, almost 172 percent in some cases in the high upper deck, for fans previously buying at a discount. Wickett said that is to ensure "price integrity," fans sitting in proximity paying similar prices.
Generally, though, Wickett said the pricing recognizes the Lightning is 29th in the standings in the 30-team league and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02.
"It sounds trite, but our season ticket holders are our lifeblood," he said. "By keeping ticket prices relatively flat, we're acknowledging we need to do better on the ice moving forward."
And help stop an attendance slide. Tampa Bay's announced average of 18,804 is eighth in the league; down from 19,876 last season and 20,509 in 2005-06, when it was second.
Who benefits most? Those buying lower-bowl tickets in Row K and above at the end of the ice the Lightning defends twice; reduced to $1,599 from $2,750. Another big drop: Tickets in the top five rows, reduced to $499 from $749 and $659.
At the same time, those in the upper-bowl corners who had discount tickets for $257.50 could pay up to $699, a 171.5 percent increase, or $499 in the top five rows, a jump of 93.8 percent. Lower-bowl end zone tickets, discounted for some to $1,337.97, will rise 19.5 percent to $1,599.
"People sitting in the promotional areas getting increases aren't thrilled with an increase," Wickett said. "But we think they understand the opportunity they have been receiving in the past."
Bradenton's Mitchell Margolis, 15, said the base price of his family's two seats in Section 102, Row H stayed at $3,500 each. But Margolis noted the Lightning plays one fewer home game next season because of the season-opening trip to Prague, Czech Republic.
To make up for that, Wickett said, season ticket holders will get a like number of free tickets in a similar seating area to a game of their choice.
"And then, also, they're in last place," Margolis said. "And it doesn't look like they're stable with their ownership, so we don't really know if they're going to rebuild or make it better in the offseason. That's why we want to wait till the summer. If they show their commitment to be good again, them I'm pretty sure we'll re-up."
Valrico's Gary Parkhurst, 33, said he is sure he will not "because of the state of the team."
But St. Petersburg's Richard Gorton, 25, who said his two half-season tickets in Section 303, Row B will cost $1,398 next season, down $57, is on board.
"I was expecting a bigger drop,'' he said. "But I love hockey, and I love Tampa Bay."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]com.