From 1946 until its closure in 1999, Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens never had a single unsold seat. During that time, a season ticket to Toronto's NHL team was golden. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams from its original six, hockey passions have spread across North America, making season tickets just as valuable in cities such as Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The NHL's regular season includes 82 games, with each team hosting 41 games. Some teams, such as the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins or Montreal Canadiens, only offer full or half-season season-ticket packages. In cities that may struggle at times with attendance, such as Atlanta and Nashville, the teams also offer flex packages that can include as few as six games.
The NHL is a business, and like any business is subject to the laws of supply and demand. Popular teams can charge more of a premium than those outside hockey hotbeds. According to Team Marketing Report, a Chicago market research firm, St. Louis had the cheapest average season ticket during the 2008-09 season at $29.94 per game. Toronto, now playing in the Air Canada Centre, charged an average of $76.15 per game, the league's most expensive season ticket. The NHL average for 2008-09 was $49.66, which means that one ticket to all 41 regular-season games and two preseason games cost more than $2,100.
Many NHL teams put a cap on the number of season tickets they can sell. This is to ensure that some tickets remain available for group sales, opponents' allotments, charitable disbursements and single-game admissions for the public. The PIttsburgh Penguins have capped their season ticket sales at 14,000, the Buffalo Sabres at 16,500 and the Washington Capitals at 12,000. Because of high demand, these seats are often sold out.
As a result, those three teams, along with Toronto, Montreal, Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary, Edmonton and the New York Rangers, instituted waiting lists for the 2010-11 season. Those on the waiting list pay a one-time registration fee or deposit, which varies by team, and usually a yearly maintenance fee to be queued in case season tickets become available. As of 2010, Pittsburgh's waiting list was at 3,800 and the Rangers had more than 12,000.
The biggest benefit of NHL season tickets is first choice of playoff tickets should your team qualify. Some teams like to throw in more luxurious perks, though. For example, some season-ticket holders in Buffalo receive free parking and complimentary waiter service at their seats. The Tampa Bay Lightning offers some of its season-ticket holders locker room tours and exclusive access to team practices.
A purchase of a season-ticket package is by no means a commitment to attend all games. Scheduling conflicts will arise or maybe a lackluster team is rolling into town. Because of the influx of online ticket brokers, most season-ticket holders can rid themselves of unused tickets and usually turn a profit. Ticketmaster launched TeamExchange to allow season-ticket holders to sell their tickets to other fans. Unlike other ticket brokers, TeamExchange delivers most tickets electronically to the buyer, and automatically cancels the season-ticket holder's original tickets. This eliminates the inconvenience of organizing meeting times to exchange tickets in person.