Since birth in 2000, the Minnesota Wild has never played to a less-than full house at home.
Heading into Friday’s game against the Islanders, the Wild are seven games into its 2009-2010 home schedule. That means they’ve had 335 regular season home games, plus 13 home playoff games – all in front of at least 18, 064 souls, which is the magic number for recording the game as a sellout at Xcel Energy Center. When you add in pre-season games, the total is north of 375, I’m told.
But what I only recently learned was that, in the NHL, a sellout “constitutes tickets distributed, not tickets sold” according to Wild beat writer extraordinaire Michael Russo. Which immediately calls into question the legitimacy of any sellout in the NHL.
In the first place, the word “sellout” begins with the word “sell” which implies, in this case, that someone wanted to purchase said tickets. Clearly if enough people wanted to buy enough tickets to fill a hockey arena, then the tenant of that arena would be justified in being proud that there was so much demand for their product.
However, the inference from Mr. Russo’s commentary on the qualifications for a sellout is that no ticket need be purchased at all, as long as enough tickets are recorded as being “distributed.” We’re getting into the quirky land of semantics here, but what’s stopping a team from, for example, realizing they’re 500 tickets-sold short of their sellout number before a game and then sending a community relations team out to the nearest shopping mall to distribute (read: give away) those 500 tickets – not caring whether or not the recipients of the free ducats actually show up for the game? Nothing, it would appear. And the thought that the team could then claim that game was a “sellout” is somewhat disturbing.
Certainly, there are teams out there who actually do sell all the tickets necessary to fill their building to the sellout limit (if not beyond.) But why should they have to suffer a guilt by association to teams that take a more nefarious – which is not to say “illegal” – approach to producing/recording sellouts?
Now, on the other side of that coin, whom does it really hurt if a team calls a game a sellout when it wasn’t a sellout? Do the Maple Leafs really care if the Wild calls a game a sellout even if they didn’t sell all the tickets? Not likely. So this isn’t some kind of call for a referendum on the NHL’s sellout policy.
However, given Mr. Russo’s further revelation that the Wild – owners of the NHL’s current league-best sellout streak – has resorted to giving out tickets to employees either for their own use or to “distribute” (gratis) to their friends and family (or, some bum on the street, for all we know) in order to preserve their sellout streak, this most definitely is some kind of call for a referendum on the Wild and its sellout policies.
Like the long, graduated dollar amount, cap-hit-reducing contracts currently en vogue with some GMs, the Wild’s ticket distribution practices are not “illegal,” per se, more that they’re just in violation of the spirit of the rules.
Because it is patently ridiculous for a team that claims to be the professional manifestation of the “State of Hockey” to have to resort to such tactics to preserve a sellout streak. It’s a pathetically hollow way to prop oneself up as an organization.
Long after the Wild stopped being a novelty, people have continued to support the team because they love hockey in Minnesota and, far more importantly, because the team was worth supporting. Win or lose, you got an honest effort from the Wild. For those reasons, the sellout streak was a justifiable point of pride for the Wild.
But, even if the current economy (which the Wild and/or Minnesota Sports & Entertainment obviously can’t control) is partially to blame for a reduction in interest in the Wild as represented by ticket sales, the organization is embarrassing itself by propping up its sellout streak in this manner.
In other words, residents of the State of Hockey should be insulted by this. They who have supported this team with their hard-earned dollars through years of mediocrity – all the while surrounded by good (more-successful, even) hockey at the collegiate, high school and youth levels, and all at considerably lower ticket prices – are being told by the team that they were just another number coming through the turnstiles when they did manage to scrape together enough do-re-mi to purchase Wild tickets.
Instead of turning its sellout streak into a joke, the team should have accepted that the on-ice product isn’t as compelling as it used to be. Or, more to the point, as it would need to be for Minnesotans to justify spending those increasingly scarcer dollars on tickets right now. They froze ticket prices from last season. Why not cut them now? Juicing their sellout numbers like this implies that the team completely takes its fans for granted. Further it indicates that the team does not accept responsibility for itself.
If nothing else, if you’re going to give tickets out for free, why not give them to charities or to schools to let them use them towards morale-boosting endeavors, or simply to the common good of the community?
The Minnesota Wild retired the #1 before playing their inaugural home opener – a sellout – in honor of the fans. Then-principal owner Bob Naegele said then that no Wild player would wear the number 1 because the team wanted to remember that the fans were always #1 in their hearts and minds.
Sadly, it would appear we have indeed come a long way, baby.
Nick in New York
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