Ticket revenue is critical to the viability of the University of Maine men’s hockey program.
Unlike their counterparts in football and basketball, the Black Bears do not have access to lucrative “guarantee” games against high-powered opponents, the proceeds from which can be used to defray operating costs.
Hockey revenue is derived from butts in the seats and private donations. And when the team is not winning consistently, which has been the case for the last two years in particular (22-46-9 record), fans lose interest.
UMaine athletics has finally demonstrated some common sense in addressing its dwindling attendance for men’s hockey games at Alfond Arena. It recently unveiled new season “membership” plans for both men’s hockey and football, which are the best-attended sports at the university.
Rather than try to squeeze every possible dollar out of the shrinking nucleus of die-hard fans — who are likely to buy season tickets or attend games regardless of the Black Bears’ won-lost record — UMaine appears intent on doing everything it can to get more fans on campus.
UMaine has reduced its season ticket prices for men’s hockey and has eliminated parking fees in the hope of rebuilding a larger fan base at Alfond Arena.
When UMaine was a perennial title contender in Hockey East and was playing in the regularly in the NCAA tournament, demand for tickets was much higher. That allowed school officials to raise prices without hurting the bottom line — or offending patrons.
As the men’s hockey program continues to struggle, there is less demand for tickets. Lowering the price should help sell more.
Fans have been jumping off what was once an overloaded UMaine hockey bandwagon. Over the last five years, nearly 30 percent of season-ticket holders have relinquished their seats and attendance has dropped.
Coach Red Gendron has tried to help UMaine re-establish itself as a Hockey East contender, but progress has been slow thus far and some fans’ patience has worn thin.
Exacerbating the dynamic were some questionable policies enacted by UMaine in trying to make up for the lost revenue caused by falling attendance.
In 2014, the athletics department lowered prices overall, but implemented game-specific ticket prices that charged more for contests against higher-profile opponents such as New Hampshire and Boston University.
However, the kick in the gut for many Black Bear fans came with the implementation of the $10 fee to park in most of the lots located close to Alfond Arena. That sent an unfortunate message to the true-blue fans, who probably parked farther away.
Those fees have been eliminated, opening up some more easily accessible parking. That is an important consideration for fans who prefer not to have to walk long distances across campus to Alfond Arena on cold, snowy nights.
In addition to cutting season membership prices, UMaine has provided needed flexibility in ticket packages that will, among other things, allow members to trade in tickets for games they are unable to attend in exchange for two extra tickets to a future game. That frees up their unused tickets for other fans.
Whether the price cuts will result in a significant and much-needed attendance increase is unknown. Ultimately, it will be the Black Bears’ ability to win games that will serve as the best marketing tool moving forward.
UMaine’s changes to its football season tickets are somewhat puzzling, given the department has opted to raise prices for 2016, albeit for the first time in several years.
UMaine’s football attendance dipped from 5,657 fans per game in 2014 to 5,071 a year ago. That’s a 10 percent dip.
Even so, with plans averaging only $11 to $20 per game for five home contests, Black Bear football remains relatively affordable (hockey averages $15 for 17 games, including two exhibitions).
Football fans no longer will have to pay $20 to enter the tailgating area or $10 to park in other nearby lots, which results in significant savings for those who did so before.
So, while UMaine athletics is making a good-faith effort to make men’s hockey and football games more affordable, winning teams will be the deciding factor in putting more fans in the seats at Alfond Arena and Alfond Stadium and generating more income.