- Sunday, October 11, 2009 6:21 PM
- Written By: Josh Marks
The sad story of professional sports pricing out the average fan is well documented.
ESPN.com recently ran an Outside the Lines feature story on the sparsely populated Legends Suite at the new Yankee Stadium. It turns out Wall Street hucksters aren't even willing to spend the $1,200 in this down economy to get so close to the field they can see the brand of sunflower seeds being spit out of Derek Jeter's mouth.
So it is with some NHL franchises. According to the New York Times' SlapShot blog , by the time a family of four buys tickets, parks and eats at Air Canada Center for a Toronto Maple Leafs game they will have spent a whopping $585.57. The Leafs raised their ticket prices by 10.2 percent followed by Pittsburgh at 8 percent and the Rangers at 7.1 percent.
This with the United States unemployment rate at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent and 7.2 million jobs lost since the recession began in Dec. 2007. The unemployment rate in Ontario is down slightly but still at 9.2%. And while Pittsburgh's unemployment is better than the national average at 7.8 percent, the state of Pennsylvania is at 8.6 percent. And the epicenter of the financial crisis -- New York City -- experienced a 10.3% unemployment rate in August mostly due to all the layoffs on Wall Street.
So how can the Leafs, Penguins and Rangers justify their ticket price increases? They can't. Thankfully those three franchises don't reflect the whole picture of NHL ticket prices. The cost of admission overall stayed level at an average of $51.41 for non-premium seats -- only 0.3 percent higher than last season.
Still, even with NHL ticket prices stabilizing this year, it is still too expensive for many fans who are financially suffering right now.
So what is a poor puckhead to do? The options for watching games on television and the internet either got a whole lot better this year or will improve soon.
DirecTV dropped Versus in September due to a carriage dispute and so far there has been no progress in adding the channel, but hopefully this will change soon. However, Dish Network added Versus for three months and possibly longer. To demand DirecTV add Versus immediately call 1-800-531-5000. To thank Dish Network for adding Versus and ask them to make the channel permanent, call 1-888-686-2388.
All of this would change of course if Comcast, which owns Versus, buys NBC Universal from General Electric. The cable giant is close to a deal with GE to merge with the TV and movie studio. And according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Comcast is very interested in expanding their sports programming to compete with ESPN. A partnership with NBC would mean Versus would instantly up its game through NBC's NFL, NHL and Olympics coverage. Versus would no longer be seen as a niche channel but part of powerhouse NBC Sports. That means more hockey coverage and that also means Dish Network and DirecTV will be forced to carry Versus on basic cable. All great news for hockey fans.
But right now the best option for hockey fans on a budget is NHL GameCenter Live on NHL.com. The website really upped their game this year, providing a great deal for twenty bucks a month or a one-time payment of $160.
NHL GameCenter Live offers all the out-of-market games not nationally televised on Versus or NBC. The best thing about the subscription is how portable it is -- you can log on from any computer with internet access anywhere in the world to watch games.
New features include an adaptive video option which automatically controls the bitrate of the video quality depending on the connection speed to prevent buffering and choppiness.
Also, DVR functionality offers the opportunity to rewind and fast forward by 10 seconds at a time to see that amazing goal again if you missed it. After replaying the game you can switch to live mode at any time.
The picture-in-picture function places another game within the frame of the larger game and multiview allows up to four games to be watched simultaneously.
Archived games are also available to watch so if you miss the game live you can check back the next day and watch it.
But perhaps the best feature is that it is commercial-free. NHL GameCenter Live does its best to cut off advertisements before they start airing so it is only the action on the ice that you get to see.
Viewers are certainly catching on as orders for NHL GameCenter Live are up 70 percent compared to last year at this time.