Buffalo Sabres: Why do they keep raising ticket prices every year?

Nov 21, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Fans enter the KeyBank Center to watch a game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Calgary Flames. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Fans enter the KeyBank Center to watch a game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Calgary Flames. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

The Buffalo Sabres have once again raised ticket prices, but is it justified, especially after six seasons without playoff hockey?

Benjamin Franklin famously once said the only certainties in life, were death and taxes. Maybe we should now add yearly price increases for tickets to watch the Buffalo Sabres.

Of course, this comment is made with tongue slightly in cheek. However, it doesn’t change the fact the Sabres have increased ticket prices every year since Terry Pegula bought the franchise in 2011.

Before we go any further, let’s make it clear this article is not about finding some excuse to bash Pegula. He (and his wife Kim) have received more than their fair share of criticism of late, with Buffalo sports fans becoming increasingly exasperated by the lack of success for the Sabres and Bills.

However, you have to wonder sometimes if this criticism is undeserved? And not just because Buffalo could be minus one — if not both — of their major sports franchises, if it weren’t for the Pegulas.

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Regardless, it is still worth looking into the reasoning behind the Sabres continuing to increase ticket prices. Especially when you consider it has now been six seasons since Buffalo enjoyed any playoff hockey.

The main reason comes down to a clause in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. The clause essentially encourages teams to increase ticket prices, in order to participate in the league’s revenue-sharing program.

The program takes money from teams such as the Leafs and Rangers, who can easily afford to spend more than the salary cap. It is then distributed among franchises such as the Sabres, who play in less lucrative markets.

However, in order for teams such as the Sabres to qualify for this payout, they must have gate receipts of at least 75 percent of the NHL’s average ticket prices. Fall below this mark, and you must submit a forward-thinking three-year business plan, which presents a framework for improving your financial position.

However, while the continued ticket increases are understandable from a business perspective, at what point do you put the fans first? For example, there are some NHL teams who have refused to raise ticket prices in seasons where they don’t qualify for the playoffs.

Further, even if money is the number one priority, don’t you risk alienating your fan base, especially if the Sabres continue to miss the playoffs? Fortunately for the franchise, they can point towards supply and demand.

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Two seasons ago, the Sabres announced a renewal rate of 93 percent from season ticket holders, with an increase to 97 percent last year. In addition, most of the fans on the waiting list these past two years, were able to get seats, showing the almost insatiable passion of local hockey fans.

Again though, surely at some point there is a risk of these numbers starting to drop, if the product on the ice doesn’t improve. In that respect, John Vogl of The Buffalo News makes an interesting observation.

Vogl points out that since Pegula purchased the team, the salary cap has risen 22.9 percent. However, in that same period, Sabres’ ticket prices have increased between 31.0 and 47.1 percent, depending on where you are seated in the arena.

One way the Sabres try to offset the price increases for season-ticket holders, is to refund 2.5 percent of the cost in the form of a SabreBucks card. The card can be used inside KeyBank Center or towards buying a game ticket.

All ticket invoices were accompanied by a letter from John Sinclair, who is the Sabres’ vice president of tickets and service. As reported by Vogl, the letter said:

"“While this past season did not live up to our expectations, we look forward to what the future holds for the young talent already on the roster and a continued pursuit of a championship for the city of Buffalo….As always, thank you for being a proud Sabres fan and a season ticket holder.”"

You have to wonder how proud Sabres fans are right now, in light of recent seasons – yes, you can understand the Sabres’ perspective from a business standpoint, but you can also appreciate the fans’ increasing frustration. The sooner the team starts winning again, the better for everyone.

Next: 4 takeaways from Jason Botterill's press conference

What’s your perspective on the Sabres’ once again increasing ticket prices? Do you accept the NHL is a bottom-line business, do you see both sides of the story, or do you believe this latest increase is totally unjustified? Share your thoughts in the comments section.