Seattle’s NHL team is still more than two years from taking the ice, but officials are already moving to stop what they call “ticket brokers’’ from stockpiling an inventory of KeyArena seats.
Starting Wednesday, NHL Seattle plans to contact suspected brokers who’ve reserved season tickets and tell them they can’t have them all. Fans in March 2018 were able to make deposits of $500 or $1,000 per ticket and between 32,000 and 33,000 were actually reserved in fewer than 48 hours before the list was capped.
“We’re going to go through our list and try to identify any prospective brokers on the list,’’ NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said Tuesday. “And then we’re going to pick up the phone and talk to them. Our aim is to not have brokers camping out on our list, buying tickets solely for the purpose of reselling.’’
Leiweke said the team should begin inviting fans to actually buy tickets this fall – possibly in late October. The delay in converting deposits into actual tickets is just one of several items the team has continuously postponed since the NHL franchise was awarded last December.
NHL Seattle had also initially planned to announce the new team’s name at some point this year – but that was before the league decided the team would launch in October 2021 instead of 2020. Now, the naming decision has again been put off until early next year to possibly coincide with the NHL All-Star Break and line up more with the timeline the Vegas Golden Knights used in announcing their name roughly a year ahead of their 2017 debut.
While the naming issue has frustrated some hockey impatient fans, the ticket sales delay has actually hit them in the pocket book. When the deposits were taken 17 months ago, Leiweke’s brother, Tim, who was running the effort on behalf of the Oak View Group (OVG), said it would only hold on to depositor money until summer 2018 before sales commenced.
Since then, the estimated cost of the privately-funded KeyArena rebuild by OVG has skyrocketed from $600 million to $930 million. Season ticket sales will help recoup part of that cost and OVG and NHL Seattle have no doubt adjusted their pricing models several times the past 1½ years.
Tod Leiweke said Tuesday he wants true fans to have first crack at the seats they made deposits on. When the Golden Knights launched in 2017, their sold-out home games became a bit of a league-wide joke given T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas seemed constantly half-filled with visiting team fans buying their seats off resale websites.
“We’ve been working on this for a little while and so we’re going to start making calls,’’ Leiweke said. “You might see some social media chatter about it, or somebody feeling like they’ve been impugned but we’re going to completely be fair here.
“There’s no doubt there are some big brokers on there and if they want to buy two or four season tickets and keep their priority, fine. But the idea of blocks of tickets – and there are different ways they do it, manipulate the system – we’re going to try to not let that happen.’’
One broker contacted by The Seattle Times on Tuesday said any crackdown is more a case of NHL Seattle trying to “manipulate the marketplace’’ by not letting actual public demand set the value of hockey tickets. Over much of the past decade, sports fans moved away from buying tickets at face value from a stadium or arena box office and instead now purchase them for what the market dictates from resale websites like StubHub.
As the so-called “secondary market’’ commanded lucrative profits for third party brokers and fans reselling online, teams and leagues moved to get a cut of the action. In many cases, they’ve taken seats away from brokers and then listed them on their own team websites for the same inflated prices equating to several times face value.
“They want to charge as much as they possibly can,’’ the broker said. “They don’t want to give tickets to the less popular games for very cheap. They want people to have to pay more for everything. This sounds like another opportunity for them to manipulate all the data and manipulate the pricing for everything.’’
For now, few fans will likely complain about the idea of brokers losing seats. But a potentially more contentious issue is exactly how far the resale crackdown winds up going.
With a pair of lower bowl NHL season tickets expected to go for between $10,000 and $25,000 at KeyArena, fans buying them will undoubtedly attempt to recoup some cost by reselling them on websites just as brokers do.
Leiweke said the current crackdown is for brokers alone. As for fans reselling, he said: “We’re looking at all sorts of things. We hope that the people buying tickets are Seattle hockey fans and that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to use them and not turn this into a side business.’’