By RYAN DIXON, Sportsnet Staff
It’s somewhat ironic that, while hockey lends itself well to black-and-white assessment, something seems missing when the fan experience is put in blunt, buck-driven terms.
Like all sports, hockey plays out in absolutes: win, and the smiles and hugs that start on the ice quickly travel throughout the entire arena. Lose, and heads hang in unison. That premise is the underpinning factor in the fan experience, but other elements come into play too. The cost of an evening out is something precious few families can afford to ignore, so the price of tickets, beverages and a few hot dogs can have a significant say in the overall satisfaction with the outing.
Ball it up, as the Fan Value Index does, and you can make a great case the best puck-for-buck excursions in 2010-11 happened in places like Tampa Bay, San Jose and Detroit. To come clean, the only city of those three I’ve been lucky enough to watch a hockey game in is Detroit, where one of the sport’s best barns, Joe Louis Arena, definitely gets a-rockin’.
HP Pavilion at San Jose — better known as the “Shark Tank” to fans — has a reputation as one of the most intimidating places in the league to play, which means watching a game there is probably great fun. And the Bolts’ electric lineup, by all accounts, translates to a terrific buzz in the building. The fact all three clubs were good regular-season teams and won at least one playoff round — Tampa and San Jose actually both made the conference final — means spectator passion was fuelled by winning.
But for all the ways an arena outing can be characterized by tidy metrics, the intangibles can’t be ignored. It might cost a little more to get everyone in the door, fed and feeling just right in Chicago, but how do you quantify what it’s like to stand with 20,000 screaming Hawks fans during the “Star Spangled Banner”? How about the striking sight of banner after banner hanging high above in Montreal, each one honouring a special player or championship season that helped make that organization what it is?
What’s that worth? Can you place a value on seeing the panes of glass at Madison Square Garden rock back and forth when the Rangers are on the forecheck? And for all the ribbing front-row fans at Air Canada Centre take for loving their sushi, it gets pretty loud in there when the Leafs are on their game.
By contrast, the four bottom teams on the Fan Value Index are Canadian — starting with Calgary at No. 27 and working on down through Ottawa at No. 28, Toronto at No. 29 and Edmonton dead last at No. 30. The reason for their low ranking, of course, is because they were pretty lousy outfits in 2010-11 — especially relative to what it cost to get in the door.
Other than 12th-ranked Vancouver, which came within a single win of the Stanley Cup, the highest-ranking Canadian team is Montreal at No. 22. Canada’s two Original Six teams, the Canadiens and Leafs, are 1-2 in terms of average cost, Toronto clocking in at $572.32 for a family of four, while Montreal is the only other city where the average cost is above $400 at $474.44.
Those are exorbitant prices demands and there’s no doubt a huge portion of the fan base gets boxed out of the building, which is a shame. But of the people who slip through the door at one of these classic hockey venues, how many do you think ask for their money back after the final buzzer?
Like the game itself, the fan experience contains too many intangible elements to be completely summed up in a neat and tidy ranking. Just as some teams look great on paper only to become soft as tissue on the ice, things like an entire arena singing the national anthem together or pre-game tailgating ensure there will always be some elements a spectator soaks in that can’t be quantified. And sometimes there’s value in forking out.