Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Belief in the Product

-I've heard a lot of people in a lot of places blasting the Blues for announcing an increase in the price of some of the tickets for the upcoming season. Certainly following such a dismal season with an increase in ticket prices makes one question the PR strategy makers. But, at the risk of sounding like an apologist, I don't think the move should be receiving the amount of ridicule that it has.

Yes, the on-ice Blues did have a terrible season. No, they don't figure to be challenging for a Stanley Cup next season. But they have upgraded the team and the overall experience at the building considerably already. They're investing tons of money in new scoreboards, ribbon boards, and other amenities at Savvis. They've put a pretty good chunk of change into some intriguing free-agent acquisitions. Guerin, McKee, Hinote, Weight.

We have to also remember that there was some optimism for the young guns that we put on the ice last season until injuries knocked Tkachuk, Brewer, Sanford, Drake...and a bunch of other guys out of the lineup for a good part of the season. The team had a good stretch of success after the first of the year...until the trading deadline when the wheels fell off. Bottom line... I don't think the team is as terrible as the record might indicate. With any kind of luck, and with the ability to stay healthy, The Note will at least challenge for a playoff spot in the coming season.

No, I'm not drinking any funny cool-aid. Look at the goaltending situation. There were stretches last season when Curtis Sanford and /or Jason Bacashihua were practically unbeatable. If the team could have scored a goal in front of them, they would have had many more victories than the final tally. Both of these guys figure to be back this year and more confident than before. Sanford is playing now for a big money contract...and wants to prove he's worth it. Bacashihua is coming off an outstanding showing as one of the goalies for Team USA in the IIHF Men's World Championships. If the team adds Manny Legace, or another veteran goaltender as either a number one guy or backup, they should be, at the very least, solid in goal.

The team should be more capable of putting the biscuit in the basket, if only because of the experience gained by some of the young guys. If Guerin rebounds from a bad year. If Tkachuk can stay healthy. If Weight can bring some of his Carolina "Cup" experience into play. If, if, if ...I know there are quite a few of them. But, you have to admit there has been an upgrade to the roster. At least we're not counting on as many obvious minor-leaguers as last year.

I'm willing to... and I'm always preaching this...wait until the end of December before saying the ticket price increase was unjustified or that going to a game is a waste of entertainment money. I always wait until then to assess the quality of the team as far as playoff contention goes. You just might see the Savvis Center...or whatever it will be called when the new naming partner is signed...become the place to be in the coming season. Then a lot of people, or businesses, will wish they had either kept their season tickets...or invested a little more to keep them.

What if the Blues happen to become a hot ticket? What if everything falls into place this season on the ice? What if the game night experience improves to the point that Blues games become "the thing to do" this Fall and Winter in St. Louis. If the Blues had waited until that happened to announce a price increase on tickets, they would be blasted for profiteering then too. They might as well get it over with now, and take their lumps with pricing so it looks like they're confident in what they're doing. They probably figured that you're rarely going to raise prices and have the media hail it as a wise thing to do no matter when it's done. Even after the price bump, the tickets here are cheaper than in two-thirds of the other cities in the NHL. And make no mistake, the NHL in cities other than St. Louis, was setting attendance records last season. And that's right out of the gate after missing a whole season. The Blues people probably figured that with an upgrade to the roster there will be higher demand for tickets here too.

One other thing. The Checketts administration isn't coming in here with blinders on. They have run sports operations in the biggest market in the world. They aren't stupid. Let's give them a chance to prove what they know, what they can do, and that they mean what they say when they say "we're in this to win". Big time sports isn't a cheap night out. We already knew that. Now it's up to the on-ice guys to make the ticket worth its face value.

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