Penguins eschewing personal seat licenses

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Unlike the city's two other pro sports franchises, the Penguins won't charge fans a fee for the right to buy season tickets.

In a letter to season ticket holders mailed yesterday, Penguins President David Morehouse said team owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle had decided against selling personal seat licenses in the Consol Energy Center. The new arena is scheduled to open in 2010.

The seat license fees typically are required of fans for the right to purchase a season ticket for a specific seat in a new stadium, ballpark or arena. They have become more common in recent years, particularly in the National Football League, and were used at both Heinz Field and PNC Park.

"With the economy in the shape it's in, combined with the level of support we've had from season ticket holders over the years, we decided it was something we weren't going to do," Mr. Morehouse said in an interview.

In doing so, the team rejected the advice of an outside consultant, who recommended that it charge seat licenses for club and other premium seats, he said.

"Mario and Ron just decided they didn't want to do it. They just said no," Mr. Morehouse said.

The Penguins' decision not to charge seat licenses is not unusual for a National Hockey League franchise, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd., an industry consultant.

Mr. Ganis said seat licenses are far more common in pro football stadiums and collegiate facilities than they are in hockey. In fact, only two NHL franchises, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs, charge such a fee.

Dave Synowka, a professor and director of the sport management program at Robert Morris University, said hockey tickets, on average, are already among the highest in sports, more expensive than those for NFL and Major League Baseball games.

Given that and the deteriorating economy, it was a "smart business decision" for the Penguins to ice the idea of seat licenses, he said.

"If you put on a PSL, you're probably pricing yourself out the market and discouraging people from buying tickets," he said.

Both Mr. Synowka and Mr. Ganis said seat licenses are far more prevalent in the NFL because there's such a high demand for the seats and the waiting lists in some cities run decades so there's no shortage of buyers.

Mr. Synowka said the Blue Jackets probably were able to do it because hockey is the only major professional sport in Columbus. In Toronto, hockey is the game, he noted.

The Penguins have sold out 81 games in a row and have a waiting list of 5,000 people for season tickets. Still, the demand is not as high as it is for season tickets to Steelers games, Mr. Synowka said.

In addition, the Penguins probably will raise ticket prices when they move into the new arena before the 2010-11 season, although there has been no official confirmation of that. Based on a study in Team Marketing Report, the Penguins, with an average ticket price of $51.45, are already slightly above the NHL average of $49.66.

Mr. Morehouse, in his letter, said season ticket holders will be receiving information on seat relocation and pricing plans next year. The team also will be opening a marketing suite in One Chatham Center that will house a scale model of the new arena as well as build-outs of a suite and loge box, a premium seating area.

Before Heinz Field opened, the Steelers sold personal seat licenses ranging from $250 for an upper deck seat to $2,700 for the best in the stadium. In all, 45,000 licenses were sold in the 65,000-seat facility.

The Pirates also sold licenses for 2,900 of the best seats in the 38,127-seat ballpark. They ranged from $2,000 to $16,125 a seat, depending on the location.

Still, those prices pale in comparison to what some teams are demanding these days. For example, the New York Giants want $1,000 for upper deck seats to $20,000 or more for mezzanine or lower level seats in their new stadium. The Cowboys are charging $2,500 to $150,000 for a seat license in their new facility.

The Penguins' decision not to charge licenses comes on the heels of the announcement last week that Consol will have the naming rights for the new arena for 21 years. Terms were not disclosed, but Mr. Ganis estimated the rights probably will cost Consol $2 million to $4 million a year.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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