TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Lightning is cutting season ticket prices, with some 4,000 seats available for just US$239 for the 2009-10 season.
Lightning season-ticket packages will range from US$5.69 to US$85.69 a game. In contrast, the Maple Leafs' price range for next season is C$38 to $187.
The Lightning, who have started sending out season ticket renewals for the 2009-10 campaign, are cutting prices for nearly 90 per cent of the St. Pete Times Forum seats, most by eight to 12 per cent, the team said in a release.
On average, season ticket prices are decreasing by 10 per cent. Half-season and 10-game mini-plan prices are decreasing as well.
"In this economy, you have to recognize where everything's at - and be pro-active," Lightning co-owner Len Barrie, a Victoria real estate developer, said Friday in Vancouver prior to Tampa's game against the Canucks. "We want to have a full rink. With the size of rink that we have, we'd rather have a full rink than an empty rink and higher prices."
The Lightning have averaged 16,353 this season, or 85.5 per cent of capacity.
Barrie believes the Lightning should still be entitled to NHL revenue-sharing despite the low season-ticket prices, because Tampa plays out of a larger arena than other clubs.
"It's a different animal, because we have 22,000 seats," said Barrie. "We're not offering 22,000 seats at that price. We're in a different market. We're going to have certain tickets at that price, but we also have a high-priced ticket. With the owners, it's not about the price of the tickets. It's about the revenue that you bring in at the end of the day. We're one of the better revenue-sharing teams. We're right in the middle."
Revenue-sharing is not just about ticket revenue, said Barrie. It's also about sponsorships and other marketing efforts.
"It's the only way the league's going to work," said Barrie. "If you don't have (revenue-sharing), then you might as well have an eight team league and we'll go have our own team (in a different) league. It's as simple as that."
The team reclassified nearly 1,300 upper level seats, slashing the price for the season from $1,199 to $239. Combined with those that were available at that price this season, nearly 4,000 or one-fifth of the arena seats will be available for $239 a season.
Other upper level seating prices will be cut by 20 per cent. Some lower and club level seats will decrease in price by six to 12 per cent for the season.
In addition to the price reductions, the Lightning are offering an eight-month payment plan for ticket-buyers, allowing payment to be spread out.
Lightning star Martin St. Louis said he was not aware of the reduced season-ticket prices.
He said low crowds in Tampa reflect the team's struggles on the ice, and the team is struggling to regain the excitement and the buzz that it enjoyed while winning the Stanley Cup over the Calgary Flames in 2004.
"It's a good market," said St. Louis. "When we were winning, the buildings were packed. We've got to get back to winning. Once we do that, I'm not worried. The fans will be there. It will be sold out."
"I watch the news and, obviously, the economy is not that great," said O'Brien. "Maybe they're just trying to cut some people some slack. That's pretty good on their part. Obviously, they want to get some more people in their building."
Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who played college hockey at Bowling Green in Ohio, said the $239 deals shows the Lighting are desperate to attract fans. Canadians do not understand the intense level of competition for fan dollars between U.S. pro teams and college football and basketball teams.
"There's obviously a lot of competing teams with college sports and everything down there," said Bieksa. "So they've got to do what they can do just to get people in the door. Obviously, they're hoping people stay after that."