Inside the NHL

To say some local hockey fans gulped when initial NHL Seattle season-ticket prices were released last week would be inaccurate — it’s tough to swallow while spitting out coffee or enduring other reflexive actions after learning 44-game packages will cost from $12,540 to $15,620 for the 2,600 priciest seats.

We’ve warned NHL prices aren’t for the faint of heart, but seeing them in black and white seems to have some fans fainting while grasping for their hearts.

Sticker shock? Try toaster-in-your-bathtub shock.

That said, prices for “club level” seats here aren’t out of whack with premium tickets in New York; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Denver; Philadelphia; Las Vegas and elsewhere.

And for those citing prices in Detroit, Buffalo, or wherever else housing costs a fraction what it does here, take a breath. Our city’s relative wealth obviously factored, as did NHL Seattle being a new team with zero on-ice baggage playing in a new arena (under the same roof).

Sure, NHL Seattle isn’t exactly offering club-seat bargains. They even tried softening the blow by stating general season-ticket prices — to be released next year — will start as low as $50 per night. But that’s still right on the league’s mid- to upper-tier border for the priciest among lowest-cost seat options and not comparable to $13.50 in Anaheim, $14.70 in Colorado, $20 in San Jose and $24 in Columbus.

But again, NHL tickets still average among the priciest in sports, namely because players are paid like major professionals in the NFL, MLB and NBA without the same revenue from national television. So, that’s made up through ticket sales.

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NHL Seattle tickets will also pay for a $930 million KeyArena rebuild. For those arguing a “free” arena privately built in Sodo would produce cheaper tickets, get back to me when anybody can afford even the $490 million venue proposed there years ago without public money or guarantees of teams to offset construction costs.

A near-billion-dollar arena is being built right now. As with any private business venture, consumers can choose to buy or not buy the product.

That said, the $12,540-to-$15,620 club-seat prices were lower than I’d expected given the Vegas Golden Knights pegged their “VIP’’ premium seats at $15,050 to $17,200 before their 2017-18 debut. The Washington Capitals charge $12,540 to $23,760 for “VIP” season tickets near ice level with club access, and even recent longtime underperformers like the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche charge $10,560 to $15,400 and $10,120 to $14,300, respectively, for club seats.

The definition of “club” or “premium” seating is all over the map, making comparisons difficult. Some premium sections elsewhere are smaller than where NHL Seattle spread its highest-priced seats. You’ll find lower-bowl, center-ice Capitals season tickets for $7,788 but not the club, parking or perks of similar red-line placement here.

The Vegas expansion season is probably the best apples-to-apples Seattle comparison, with its new-arena amenities and no recent on-ice performances that have hindered teams from setting higher prices elsewhere.

Given the Vegas expansion campaign was in 2017 and NHL Seattle’s is in 2021, club prices here probably aren’t the gouge they could have been. At least, not on price alone.

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What caught my eye more was NHL Seattle requiring a minimum three-year commitment on premium seats. So, anyone buying two such tickets — most fans won’t want to sit alone — will sign away $75,240 to $93,720.

Now, I don’t think the three-year ask from 2,600 or fewer premium clients overreached. After all, NHL Seattle claims 80% of luxury suites have already sold, and I’m told the team sought commitments of 7 to 10 years on some.

But for the 12,000 to 15,000 remaining general season tickets? Even in our wealthy market, requiring commitments beyond one year would likely be a tough sell. And the ability to actually sell tickets is how NHL Seattle will ultimately be judged, not by fans griping about what top seats should cost or what Detroit residents living in more affordable houses pay to attend games.

No, seats here won’t come as cheap as my $18 standing-room ticket to Game 4 of the 1989 Stanley Cup Final. Those prices are done, as is whatever the Sonics charged in 1995, or the Seahawks in 1978.

But NHL Seattle must also avoid outpricing today’s market.

Multiple stories north of the border last week hinted at NHL prices nearing saturation, given five of six Canadian clubs — including the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens — failed to sell out midweek games.

The Canadiens had a 14-year sellout streak snapped last season while the Jets had sold out since relocating from Atlanta in 2011.

But Winnipeg had a major snowstorm while Montreal’s 21,273-seat arena even at 90% full outdraws most American teams any given night. Canadian teams also boast huge season-ticket retention rates, so saturation-point arguments are likely in the eye of the beholder.

My guess is NHL Seattle won’t risk requiring general season-ticket commitments beyond one year in this still-untested market.

Worth watching is the thorny issue of season-ticket resale. So far, NHL Seattle will only say resellers must use an approved team-partner platform. Hardly perfect, but preferable to limiting tickets that can be resold to offset the package cost.

Fans who can afford $75,000 for a pair of the 2,600 highest-priced seats probably don’t care much about resale. But too much blocking of others from subsidizing their season-ticket outlay might be a stretch.

Especially when, in most NHL cities, fans’ wallets are already being stretched thin.