Lindbloom’s View: Blackhawks ’12-13 season ticket cost hike a hustle formula

Hawking at Dixie Square Mall

By Rich Lindbloom

“Kung Fu
That was one of my good ones
Well what’s a few broken bones
When we know it’s good clean fun
Skateboards
I’ve almost made them respectable
You see I can’t always get through to you
So I go for your son…so
Give me all your money ‘cause I know you think I’m funny
Can’t you see me laughing
Can’t you see me smile

I’m the man
I’m the man that gave you the hula hoop
I’m the man
I’m the man that gave you the yo-yo.”  -
Joe Jackson

All right Peabody, time for another journey on the way back machine. Back in 1973, my good friend Jack Carlson and I used to frequent the Game Room in Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, instead of attending our chemistry class at Thorton Community College. We owned a pin ball machine called Honey Bee, racking up free games faster than the Edmonton Oilers could score on the Blackhawks. You could almost turn the machine on its side and it wouldn’t fault. That “deaf, dumb and blind kid,” would have stood no chance against us on this machine. It was in the parking lot of Dixie Square Mall one afternoon that I met a man that reminded me of John McDonough. Let’s just say he was familiar with the song, “Do the Hustle!”

Now please don’t take offense, but if you were approached by a muscular looking black man in the parking lot at Dixie Square Mall, one could become a bit unnerved. Especially when this guy flashed open his coat which I was pretty sure concealed a weapon. Much to my surprise though, my eyes looked upon an assortment of glittering watches. “Hey man, you want to buy a watch? They’re Omega’s – brand new.” Now I wasn’t born yesterday and after looking around for “the man,” asked him how much. “$20,” he replied. “No, too much,” I countered. When he lowered his price on the Omega to $10, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

As we left the parking lot, I was quite pleased with my negotiations and beautiful new gold watch. (Who says you have to wait for retirement.) Later that night, I took it off my dresser to show my brothers and noticed the watch had stopped ticking. I wound it a few times and it started running for about 10 seconds, before stopping again. The damn thing never ticked again. To make matters worse, when I took a closer look at the watch, the brand name was actually Gimega! I never saw the gentleman in the parking lot again. Even if I had, I’m pretty sure he operated under a no return policy. (The same thing happened to me when I purchased my first Committed Indian – I thought it was the program they sold inside the building with all the pretty pictures.)

This memory came to mind when I read the Blackhawks announced their fourth consecutive season ticket price increase recently. Let’s just say, like the watch incident, I’m a little ticked off. What incenses me most about fourth increase in four years is an attempt by the Hawk brass to justify their rapacious ways. Statements such as “We’ve been in the bottom half of ticket pricing in the NHL for many, many years,” (Need I remind you we also didn’t make the playoffs for 8 consecutive years). Or “an interesting formula” was used to calculate the new increases. (Interesting to who?-certainly not the schmuck in section 322 eating the increase.) “The increase is also commensurate with the caliber of product that we put on the ice, so we want to make sure that there’s consistent excellence going forward.” (Tell me John, how has that worked out for the Cubs over the last 100 years?)

No doubt, John McDonough deserves credit for marketing and guiding the Hawk organization during the ascendance to one of the premiere teams in the NHL. However, (maybe it’s his Chicago Cub affiliation) I can’t help but think of him when I look at that above picture of Joe Jackson. The words “snake oil salesman” or “parking lot purveyor” seem to be inextricably bound in his genetic makeup. I found his statement, “I really wouldn’t call it a major hit,” arrogant and out of touch with reality. It might not be a major hit to someone of McDonough’s means, but to the masses in the 300 section, the ones who were most likely attending games before Toews and Kane’s arrival, I think I speak for a majority of us second cousins when I say, “It’s significant.”

To give a basic review of Hawk ticket increases over the last 4 years, I’ll use the example of my seats in section 320. (I won’t even mention the inordinate pain and suffering of having to sit next to the Fels brothers.) First off, fans who inhabit the upper reaches of the United Center quite likely have more pressing financial needs than Mr. McDonough might realize. I became a season ticket holder after Toews and Kane’s rookie year because it was the only way of securing a seat for the 09/10 season. We attended over 20 games in the 08/09 season when you could pay $10 for a seat in the boonies-clearly the best deal I’ll ever see in my lifetime. Much like a crack addict, once we got a taste of the excitement the two scintillating rookies brought to the Hawks, we were hooked. For a about a month my daughter kept saying, “Dad, we need to get season tickets, the 300 Section is selling out.” I laughed at her, but thought I’d better check it out. Much to my dismay, her observations were correct.

It was a hard sell convincing my wife that we needed to plunk down $2268.00 clams for our two $27 tickets in the 09/10 season. I overcame her valid objections of the “investment” by talking a few friends to split the season with us. It was a tougher sell in the 10/11 season, as the lump sum of $3,344.00 for two tickets at $38/ticket was required. We were given a relative break in the spiraling costs in the 11/12 season of $3696.00, or $42/ticket. If I calculate correctly, we’ve had a 56% increase since the initial investment in our seats. Can you begin to feel the pain as I ponder the announced 8% increase for the 12/13 season? (I’m hoping at the very least they have a hula hoop or yo-yo give away night to help mollify the increase.)

Unfortunately, it gets worse. The 8% increase is an average increase. I was pretty shocked when I looked into the “interesting formula” the Hawks brass devised. To make this perfectly clear let me put it in a way that the denizens of the 300 Sections might understand; “interesting formula” = “screwed up as Pedro’s breakfast.” For the uninformed, the price increases are steepest, by a long shot, in the 300 Level. The 300 hundred level is being priced at three different rates, depending on what Tier you’re in. Tier 1 prices (the best seats in the 300 level) are scheduled to rise 16%. Tier 2 are going up 14%, while Tier 3 prices are set to rise a whopping 17%. That’s right, the “Peanut Gallery” will be absorbing the largest increase in the coming season. And you thought Coach Q’s line changes were puzzling?

The thought of the wild and raucous crowds in films I’ve seen from Shakespeare’s days entered my mind. I thought there was a term to label these, somewhat, undesirables that occupied the cheap seats in the theatre. When I keyed in “What did they call the people who sat in the cheap seats at Shakespearean plays,” a few things popped up. First of all, they were called groundlings or commoners. (In our day and age, we call them the true fans-although meatballs and knuckleheads may be more accurate.) Their seats were located in an area called “The Peanut Gallery.”

Because the cheap seats, actually standing room, were so inexpensive and remote, they often attracted a much rowdier crowd – A crowd laden with the riff-raff who enjoyed heckling and taunting performers. (Some things never change I guess.) The least expensive concessions were peanuts. The peanuts became a favorite weapon with which to pelt those below them in a more fortunate situation. At any rate, a 14% increase next season equates to a $5.88 increase per ticket in Section 320. To make a long story short, the initial $27.00 ticket in 09/10 will increase to almost $48.00 next year. That may be peanuts to the Hawk brass, but I fear it’s enough to make many of us scream “Uncle!” In fact President McDonough, there are some of us who think it is a “major hit.”

I was surprised how well many fans on the secondcityhockey.com website took the news of the increase. The Supply and Demand graphs quickly appeared and one poster noted the Hawks were below the NHL average. Actually, this season the Hawks ranked 13th out of 30 teams in the general seating category at an average of $55.72/seat. When I looked at the report, I began to realize why Canada does not have more teams than the current six. The six Canadian teams lead the league by a long shot on average ticket price, with the Maples tipping the scales at a whopping $123.77/seat. (There were two categories listed, premium and general. The prices I’ve posted are the general ticket prices.) I guess I should count my lucky stars, eh? The Hawks do rank in the top four for average beer cost at $7.75 though.

So what’s a hockey fan to do? There are few things on this earth I enjoy more than going to watch the Hawks. While I appreciate the Blackhawk organization televising all the games, TV pales in comparison to watching this great game live. I still get shivers when I hear the anthem. I still hold my breath when a player like Stalberg gathers a head of steam, making a mad dash up the ice. I rejoice with the throngs around me when Seabs lays a hit on an infiltrating forward. I still love hollering, “Kill the ref!” I love the sounds of the rink-the oohs and aahs on shots that narrowly miss there mark or clang off a post; I even enjoy the omnipresent organ music. I can tolerate the fans who scream, “Byfuglien, get off the ice,” or “Kaner’s too soft.” I’ll never forget the preseason game when my brother John and I saw #18 skate for the Hawks for the first time; ever.  Regrettably though, the fourth increase in four years just may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

I recall walking around Wrigley Field before the Winter Classic two years ago. Taylor and I were standing around the Ernie Banks statue, waiting to join some friends. As I looked around at the throngs of excited fans I saw a solitary figure smiling and shaking the fans hands. “Hey Rocky, where’s Bullwinkle?” I shouted out. As he smiled and waved back, I thought to myself “What are the odds of an owner mingling with Peanut Gallery?” At that point, Bill Veeck may have been the only owner more popular in the history of Chicago Sports.

After the last round of increases though, well, I just might have to throw a peanut at Rocky.  Perhaps, not so much for raising the tickets, but dismissing the increases in these dire economic times as insignificant. I’ve always been on the conservative side of the ledger, but the recent increases are a clear cut case of capitalism run amok. Damn it McDonough, I’m the 99%! Is it too late to organize a Occupy the Ticket Office protest? I can’t help but wonder what the increases would have been if the Hawks missed the playoffs this year. As it turns out though, at least as far as the Hawks are concerned, it’s a seller’s market. It clearly more resembles Joe Jackson’s great song, “I’m the Man,” than Tom Waits, “Step Right Up.” My graph isn’t looking so hot at the moment.

“Right now
I think I’m gonna plan a new trend
Because the line on the graphs getting low
And we can’t have that
And you think your immune
But I can sell you anything
Anything from a thin safety pin
To a Porkie Pie hat
‘Cause I got the trash and you got the cash
So baby we should get along fine
So give me all your money ‘cause I know you think I’m funny
Can’t you hear me laughing
Can’t you see me smile

I’m the man
I’m the man that gave you the hula hoop
I’m the man
I’m the man that gave you the yo-yo”

———————-

Rich Lindbloom is the author of the book War Drums in the Distance, a collection of articles Rich authored on the Blackhawks in their path to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

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