Kevin Mc Cormack keeps his tickets from Philadelphia Flyers games in a cardboard box stuffed with stubs going back to 1995. The season ticket holder’s collection is so extensive that it includes tickets from games that never happened. He still has ones from the lost NHL season of 2004-05, which was canceled over a labor dispute.
That 25-year tradition ended this season.
The Flyers ditched printed tickets for digital ones that can be pulled up on smartphones, so Mc Cormack’s tickets are now stored in a Google Pay digital wallet. But after fans complained to Flyers executives, the team will bring back the printed tickets next season. Season ticket holders who have had accounts since 2010 or earlier will have the choice between printed and electronic tickets.
“I thought it was a nice keepsake,” Mc Cormack, 48, of West Chester, said of the printed tickets. “I’m not against technology, but I think that they rushed that through.”
Like other sports teams, the Flyers are facing the challenge of attracting a new generation of fans while still serving a loyal yet aging fan base. The Flyers’ parent company, Comcast Spectacor, has made a bunch of changes to lure younger consumers, from a new standing-room-only section with sofas and cocktail bars to a monthly subscription pass that gets you three games for $59.
Overall attendance for the Flyers is down this season, but there are signs that the strategy may be working. Company data show new fans entering the arena and coming back for more. But as the digital ticket issue illustrates, more than a few longtime season ticket holders have complained about changes to the arena, ticketing, and prices.
Dave Scott, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said a key part of the company’s strategy is diversifying the Flyers’ fan base, which he acknowledged has been “pretty old.” The company declined to share the median age of the team’s fans. A 2017 study of TV ratings by Magna Global, a New York marketing consultant, found that the median age of National Hockey League fans was 49, which was 16 years older than it was in 2000.
“There has to be more of an entertainment component when you want to get younger,” Scott said in a recent interview.
Over the last year, the Flyers have overhauled their business operations team, now led by president Valerie Camillo and chief business officer Mike Shane, who both came from the Washington Nationals baseball team. Camillo, the first female executive to be hired as a president in the NHL, played a key role in attractions and amenities introduced by the Flyers and Wells Fargo Center this season.
That includes the New City Terrace level, a $25 standing-room only section at the top of the arena. An area previously used for private suites now features a lounge resembling a sportsbook, a rage room where you can smash dishes with sledgehammers, and a 23,000-square-foot space called the Assembly Room, which has artwork, fireplaces, and furniture facing away from the ice. There are more than 1,300 power outlets to plug in electronics.
Gathering areas such as these that attract younger fans have been a trend in the sports industry in recent years, said Pete Giorgio, Deloitte Consulting’s U.S. sports practice leader.
“In all the research on millennials, they actually really value the experience itself. The fact that it’s a communal experience. The fact they can do something with their friends,” he said. “There’s a lot more options than there used to be. Not just on a sports basis, but all sorts of entertainment options. You’re competing for people’s disposable income and their passions.”
So far, average attendance for this area has been at its capacity — roughly 1,600 people — up from the level’s average attendance of 1,000 a game when there were suites last year, according to the Flyers. The team said 83% of Assembly Room attendees had not been to a Flyers game in at least the last three years, and 25% of these “first-time buyers” have already purchased a second game this year.
Downstairs features a new attraction meant for an even younger generation — the Gritty Command Center — where kids can get wigs or their faces painted. It’s where Tim Archibald, a first-year full season ticket holder, takes his 11-year-old daughter during games.
“She’s into hockey but it’s definitely something that adds another level to a kid’s experience,” said Archibald, 39, of Huntington Valley.
Overall attendance, though, is down 3% from this point last season, according to the Flyers. Through 26 home games, the team’s average attendance is 18,167, or 93.4% of capacity, according to ESPN. The team, which expects higher attendance later in the season, finished last season with an average attendance of 20,371, or 98.1% of capacity.
The Flyers, who hiked ticket prices last year by as much as 89% for some seats, said a low price point is also part of their play. The $25 standing-room only ticket is roughly half the price of the $50 minimum that it cost to enter the arena last season, according to the Flyers. The team also sells a subscription pass of three standing-room only tickets a month for $59, about $20 a game. And for the the first time ever, the Flyers won’t increase ticket prices on any seats next season except for renovated club boxes, where prices are to be determined.
Still, longtime season ticket holders have some gripes.
The cheap standing-room only section has offended some season ticket holders who pay thousands a year for their seats. Many sell tickets on the secondary market to recoup some of their costs, including Mark Dyer, who sits at the top row of the upper bowl. He believes that he’s now competing against the standing-room-only section and said he’s struggled to sell his seats for anywhere near their $41 face value.
“I have the lowest-price ticket in the stadium and I can’t get anywhere with it,” said Dyer, a 51-year-old from Camden, Del.
Then there was the digital ticket mix-up, which sent some smartphone-less fans scrambling. William Schoeninger, a 68-year-old from Garnet Valley, said he downloaded his tickets to a thumb drive and brought it to Staples, where he spent $60 to print them out. It was a real pain in the behind, he said, but the 33-year season ticket holder acknowledged the need to attract new fans, even if the changes have had “little or no interest to me at all.”
The Flyers are navigating the sometimes competing interests of new and longtime fans with customization. Next year, season ticket holders can choose printed tickets and pick perks for their membership plans, with longer tenured season ticket holders getting better benefits. There are a variety of ticket plans from full-season, half-season, and three-game plans. Then there’s the customization of the experience itself, from where you sit (or stand) to what you eat. You can munch crab fries in your seat or get concierge service in a suite.
“We’ve been approaching our business with the eye toward customization,” Camillo said. “That is providing an experience ... that is attractive to the next-generation buyers, but also not at the expense of our current buyers. That customization can benefit our existing fans, too.”
In the end, Camillo and the business operations team can’t control one important factor that will affect attendance: the performance of the Flyers. The team has missed the playoffs four of the last seven seasons and hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012. Flyers officials said attendance in January was up from the same month last year. They hope to narrow the gap from last season’s attendance numbers, as the team competes for a playoff spot.