The Vancouver Canucks have announced that the consecutive sellout streak at General Motors Place/Rogers Arena spanning 11 seasons has come to an end.
Regardless of whether or not you place any faith in the reported ticket sales of the past, the streak has been impressive. It began on November 14th, 2002, a 3-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings and has spanned a total of 474 games and 4355 days. Before it ended, it was the longest streak of it’s kind in the NHL and among the longest in the “Big 4” North American professional sports.
I suppose the mantra “Change Is Coming” refers to all aspects of the Vancouver Canucks experience. The on-ice product seems to be more exciting, young players are reportedly going to get a chance in the big show, there is a new in-arena menu, and it would appear there will be tickets left on the table for tomorrow night’s tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
November 14, 2002: Noted in an infographic released on Canucks.com, the West Coast Express was in full swing. Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison were among the best lines in hockey, with Naslund finishing just two points behind Peter Forsberg for the league lead in points. The Canucks had ol’ Dan Cloutier in net (he would start 57 games that season), and ended up finishing fourth in the Western Conference before losing the conference semifinals in seven games to the Minnesota Wild.
Since then, the Canucks have made the playoffs eight out of eleven seasons, won the Northwest Division seven times, claimed the Presidents Trophy twice, and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. That would probably be deemed very positive by any market outside of Canada, and while it was tough to watch this team lose in the playoffs year after year, the ride was pretty thrilling.
However, in recent years, Canucks fans have come to expect more from a team that has accomplished so much in the regular season and failed to convert those results into postseason success. Last year’s debacle of a season culminated in Vancouver missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and it appeared they were heading in the wrong direction with GM Mike Gillis’ popularity nosediving and many calling for the release of head coach John Tortorella, who failed to corral an aging Canucks core and will likely be viewed as one of the more futile ventures in recent Canuck history. Thus, ticket sales took a negative turn and the consecutive sellout streak has come to an end…
It’s long been reported that these “sellouts” are only true on paper. Anybody who has attended on a Monday night versus an out of division opponent with little advertising potential knows there are empty seats in the arena.
It’s an odd atmosphere in Vancouver right now. Fans and players alike were incredibly disappointed with the proceedings of last year and even the year before. Whether it was Gillis trading away Cory Schneider at the 2013 Entry Draft, Tortorella benching Roberto Luongo in favour of backup Eddie Lack in the Heritage Classic against Ottawa, missing the playoffs last year in brutal fashion, there is no shortage of shortcomings in recent years. Nonetheless, with a change in management and coaching, along with a rebranding effort that promises more, there is a slight air of optimism. Perhaps it’s a “nothing to lose, everything to win” air, but there aren’t many who believe this team can be competitive with the Pacific Division giants (Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose), not to mention the rest of the Western Conference.
Ticket sales may be down, and the streak may be over, but I don’t think it will be long before the seats in Rogers Arena are full again. Trevor Linden and Jim Benning have made moves (trading Kesler and Garrison/signing Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata) without hesitation relative to years past and brought in Willie Desjardins, a coach noted for his ability to work with young players and produce an exciting style of hockey.
Of course, it’s likely towing the company line, but in a recent letter sent to Canucks season ticket holders, COO of Canucks Sports & Entertainment Victor de Bonis wrote “I can tell you that the last six months have been some of the most positive I’ve experienced since we opened Rogers Arena back in 1995”. I believe the Canucks have the unique opportunity to impress a downtrodden fan base.
They can’t do it with new concourse menus or empty promises, but with their actions on the ice and within management. If the first two games (albeit against subpar opponents) are any indication, the on-ice product will be an entertaining one. As the team learns Willie Desjardins’ systems, as Ryan Miller becomes more accustomed and works with Rollie Melanson, and as young players are inserted into the lineup, it will likely only improve. As for off the ice? Well, ticket prices likely won’t change that much. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of a demanding market. While the sellouts may be over, there is still an appetite for hockey tickets in Vancouver. People, we’re still in Canada.
Only Toronto and Edmonton have higher ticket resale values than Vancouver, who average $296 per ticket resold, $30 more than last season. Is it a ludicrous amount? Yes. Will the rising price trend change? Absolutely not. According to TiqIQ, only eight teams have lowered ticket prices since the start of 2012. The growing popularity of the NHL allows teams to charge more for tickets as they see fit, and while Winnipeg and Montreal were among those aforementioned eight teams, they still remain among the top ten most expensive tickets for resale in the league.
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how the Vancouver Canucks market this milestone. As of now, the spin appears to be on, as they attempt to induce positive memories from throughout the last eleven years. With the slate wiped clean over the summer and change guaranteed, perhaps it’s only fitting that the Canucks start a new consecutive sellout streak through performance on the ice and promises kept among the new management team.
Featured Image: canucks.nhl.com