Washington announces 11 percent cuts

If you discount it, will they come? The Washington Capitals sure hope so.

The team has announced that it will reduce season-ticket prices for the 2004-05 season by an average of 11 percent, The Washington Post reported in its Wednesday editions.

Of course, that's assuming there is a 2004-05 season, which is less than certain with the league's collective bargaining agreement set to expire Sept. 15. The Caps' plan includes a provision for a lockout.

Washington, which finished with its worst record in 26 years and no playoff bid, suffered a 5 percent attendance decline (from 15,552 average to 14,700) from the 2002-03 season to this past one, The Post reported.

So the attendance performance was worse than that of the league as a whole, where the numbers stayed flat, while the Caps' ticket prices averaged 13th highest ($43.85) among the 30 teams, according to Team Marketing Report numbers cited by the Post.

Half of the league's teams have announced ticket price reductions for next season, NHL official Bernadette Mansur told the newspaper.

The Post categorized the reductions as an acknowledgment that fans are being priced out of the ticket market, saying the cuts substantiate the position of the league, many owners and sports analysts that the NHL's business model has gotten out of whack.

Despite a trend of rising prices, two-thirds of NHL teams are losing money. The price reductions are an attempt to lure more people to the arenas -- in the hopes that the increased attendance would outweigh the lower profit per fan.

"The huge question is whether there is a pool of fans waiting to be activated if the price goes lower or if there is a fixed number of fans and the Capitals are just cannibalizing revenues," James Chung -- president of Reach Advisors, a Boston-based sports marketing strategy firm -- told The Post.

Chung said ticket-price reductions also are occurring in other sports, with the notable exception of the profitable NFL.

Of the 15 teams that have not said they will reduce ticket prices for 2004-05, six are raising prices and nine haven't announced their plans, The Post reported, citing the NHL as its source. According to the newspaper, the Caps' cuts are the deepest, with the New York Rangers cutting prices by 10 percent for all seats and the Florida Panthers planning to reduce prices by between 5 and 33 percent.

One impetus behind Washington's reduction is that the team is rebuilding with younger players.

"We are in a sense passing the savings along to the fans," Dick Patrick, the Capitals president and part owner, told The Post. "If we are going to have a new era of controlling costs, the fans should be a part of that, too."

Bob Sitnick, a season ticket holder from Northern Virginia, told the newspaper: "That's treating the fans the way they should be treated considering it's going to take a number of years to get back to where we should be."