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Bottoms in seats: how to create problems for rivalries

October 15, 2011

Where’d all the people go? Oh, it’s too expensive. Whoops.

An interesting bit of news crossed the Czech wires this week, namely that tickets to Extraliga games between Slavia Praha and Kometa Brno were failing to sell out because prices for the match had been jacked by over 90 crowns. This is a rivalry that is long and sordid. Think Canadiens and Bruins. Think Red Army versus whoever else in Russia was up to the task that year.

This is problem. Czech hockey is beloved and followed widely, but according to this article, Brno fans were boycotting their team’s game in Prague, simply because the prices were too high. Marketing manager for Slavia, Jan Kratochvíl, admitted that attendance was half of what it typically its for Prague-Brno games, and that the team will henceforth reduce prices. These ticketsshould be big sellers: Prague is the city’s beautiful capital. Brno is its eastern counterpart: smaller, considered more industrial, more ugly. As someone that’s been to Brno three teams for decent stays (but never actually been to Prague), I’d beg to differ. That’s not quite the point though: the two cities and their residents have strong feelings about one another (whether it’s their accent, their driving habits or their style), and these strong feelings are expressed in their hockey rivalry. Diminishing the rivalry isn’t the answer to keeping hockey alive and well in a place where it has faltered in recent years. An arena as big and new as 02 in Prague doesn’t deserve that.

Several teams across the NHL have introduced flexible pricing, a scaled sort of system (“dynamic,” it’s sometimes called) in which contests between more desirable teams (say, the Canucks or the Penguins) cost more money. This model makes sense in many instances. Of course, the secondary market works in much the same way: a pair of tickets to a game between the Bruins and Philly will cost you a pretty penny compared with a game against the Blue Jackets on StubHub.

But you can go too far: Slavia did. Not all match-ups are created equal, and it’s expected that the pricing reflect such. But vaunted rivalries mean nothing if attendance is only half of what it should be, and the arena is at half capacity. Where will the emotion be? Where will the cheers come from? As for away fans coming to games: that makes it all the more compelling. In a little country like the Czech Republic, fans frequently organize trips to follow their teams to other cities. Tack that on to the fact a good contingent of Brno natives live in Prague and want to see their team in that city, and you have an even more exciting game.

Radek Dlouhy, a forward for Kometa, brushed it off, saying empty or full, Brno fans in attendance or not, their job is to win. True as this may be, atmospherics are important (as anyone who has watched a game from Phoenix can attest). It’s just as important in the Czech Republic, where tickets may seem comparatively cheap to NHL ones, but are decent by Czech ones. Czechs haven’t been too affected by the economic crisis, and are protected within Europe as they are not a party to the Eurozone. Times aren’t tight.

But fans know when they’re being ripped off. 90 crowns is a chunk of change. That sort of change isn’t so much dynamic as it is rip-off. Higher prices are sometimes emblematic of quality. And this could be true. But if the rivalry sours, or it’s exploited, one must be delicate in how they approach their fanbase, and those of other teams in the league.

 

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