February 24, 2020
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UMaine hopes dropping ticket prices will draw more fans to men’s hockey games

File | BDN
File | BDN
UMaine fans cheer for the Black Bears in an NCAA tournament game in this BDN file photo. School officials hope that lowering ticket prices for men's hockey home games will draw more fans to Alfond Arena.

University of Maine athletic director Ken Ralph wants to put more fans in the seats for University of Maine men’s hockey games and a survey conducted by the firm IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions supplied him with a strategy for doing so: reducing ticket prices.

In the wake of dwindling attendance due to the program’s on-ice struggles and more competition for the entertainment dollar in the Bangor area, Ralph has decided to slash ticket prices.

Season memberships for the 2019-20 season will start as low as $215, an average decrease of $75, and single-game tickets will start at $16 which represents an average savings of $8.

The Black Bears averaged 3,763 in attendance per game this past season which was 207 fewer per game than the 2017-18 season and 599 fewer than the 2016-17 campaign.

However, the Black Bears were hurt, attendance-wise, by a rare Wednesday night non-conference game against Colorado College and an even more rare Monday afternoon game against arch-rival New Hampshire on Martin Luther King Day.

The Colorado College game attracted a season-low turnout of 2,803 and the UNH game drew 3,702. The three previous home games against UNH, which were played on the weekend, averaged 5,026 per game.

“Everybody understands that a $50 ticket in the Bangor market isn’t reasonable,” said Ralph referring to the highest-priced single-game tickets that often go unsold.

“Empty seats are a bad look,” he said.

Those tickets have been reduced to $35 and he said it is vital that they provide UMaine hockey fans with affordable ticket options.

“There’s a lot more competition for the entertainment dollar than there used to be,” said Ralph. “It’s very, very important to me that we’re fair to our fans because they really make the program.”

Ralph said the reduction in ticket prices is designed to make them more competitive against the other entertainment options, like concerts, to give “our loyal fans an opportunity to upgrade their seats without having to spend a lot more money and attracting more families and new fans.

“We want to bring in more kids to keep growing the Black Bear brand and develop future long-term Black Bear fans,” Ralph said.

The Black Bears haven’t done themselves any favors with their home ice performances.

UMaine was 9-7-1 at Alfond Arena this past season, 8-6-3 two years ago and 9-7 in 2016-17 for a combined record of 26-20-4.

They were a combined 14-16-5 in the 2015-16 and 2014-15 seasons after going 13-3 in head coach Red Gendron’s first season (2013-14).

UMaine’s home record during Hockey East regular season games over the past five seasons is 23-26-7.

UMaine used to have a waiting list for season tickets during the days when they were competing for national championships. UMaine has won two NCAA championships and earned 11 Frozen Four and 18 NCAA Tournament appearances.

But UMaine hasn’t made it to the Hockey East semifinals or the NCAA Tournament in seven years.

“Obviously, winning is the best market strategy,” Ralph said. “Our goal is to produce a consistent winner. Fans in this area are hungry for success in the sport of hockey, no doubt about it. Our fans have been remarkably loyal and we appreciate their loyalty and dedication.”

“We have to be honest about who we are, where we are and what we are,” Ralph said. “The product is still outstanding. You see incredible hockey in Hockey East. You see future pros out there. We’ve seen Cale Makar with the Avs, already.”

He was referring to the Hobey Baker Award-winning sophomore defenseman who led the University of Massachusetts to its first ever berth in the Frozen Four and the national championship game. Makar went on to score a goal in his first game for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche against Calgary in the Stanley Cup playoffs two days after playing in the national championship game.

Ralph said their ticket prices will be in line with ticket prices around the country for Division I hockey games.

“It’s still a premium ticket but the quality you see night in and night out is very high,” he said.

There will be five ticket prices for full-season season-ticket holders, half-season members and single game tickets. The full season memberships will range from $215 to $600; the half-season will vary from $130 to $310 and the single-game prices will range from $16 to $35.

He admitted that reducing ticket prices “carries some risks.

“If we don’t win more home games, attendance may stay flat so you may see a decline in revenue,” said Ralph.

However, with lower ticket prices, he pointed out that “we may get more casual fans and visiting team fans and that could lead to an increase in merchandise and concession sales.”

And he wants the arena full.

“Game day in a full building at Alfond Arena is as good as any arena in the country,” Ralph said recently.

UMaine will have something to build on next season since it won its last four home games and also earned Alfond victories over Frozen Four participants UMass and Providence.

Ralph praised Logan Desmond, the UMaine director of ticket office operations, Learfield-IMG College personnel and other University of Maine representative who worked with him on the project.

The goal is to attract 1,500 season ticket-holders and season memberships are on sale now. They can be obtained by calling the athletic ticket office at 207-581-BEAR (2327) or via email at UM.Tickets@maine.edu.

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