Risks, rewards of ‘name your own price' tickets in St. Louis

Entering last summer, the St. Louis Blues were coming off a season in which they averaged just 12,520 fans per home game, ranking them 30th in NHL home attendance. So the Blues got aggressive, courting their customers with inventive ticket plans.

Like, for example, the "Doug Weight 39-Hour Sale." This campaign allowed fans to purchase season tickets in the "Scottrade Blue Chip seats" in the lower bowl of the Scottrade Center for $999, also receiving an autographed stick from Doug Weight.

The team's aggressive marketing was one of the factors in a remarkable turnaround at the gate: The Blues averaged 17,610 fans per game last season. They've continued that trend as the new season approaches, with a revolutionary new ticket sales scheme: A "Name Your Price Sale."

"It's sort of that Priceline model: You submit a bid for either full season tickets, a 10-game plan or our October home games on an individual game basis," said Peter McLoughlin, CEO of St. Louis Blues Enterprises. "If that bid meets our minimum -- which we're not publishing -- then the sale goes through. If the bid doesn't meet the minimum, then it doesn't."

In that sense, it's a bit like an eBay auction: There's a reserve price that has to be hit or surpassed for a successful bid.

"There's certainly some potential ticket buyers who have been sitting on the fence. The economy is getting a lot of headlines. Our objective here was to create a program where people would come off the fence and make a purchase."

The "Name Your Price" sale was the suggestion of Blues Chief Marketing Officer Dave Bullock, a creative salesman behind many of the team's ticket initiatives. The Blues didn't run it past any other NHL team, or the NHL itself, before pursuing it.

The "Name Your Price" sale is a partnership with Ticketmaster. "Whatever the difference is between the sale price and the face value of that ticket -- depending on whether it's a full season, a 10-game plan or a single-game ticket -- Ticketmaster sponsorship will make up the difference," said McLoughlin.

The "Name Your Price" campaign was opened up to the public this week, and runs through Sunday.

St. Louis has been careful not offend its season-ticket holders; giving them first shot at the "Name Your Price" tickets, and ensuring them that the tickets in the plan were limited to 500 seats and four sections in the building, in the end where the Blues shoot once.

"In everything we do in these ticket promotions, we want to be very respectful of the support we get from our season ticket holders. The first thing we did was go out with this program last week just to season ticket holders, so they could buy more seats. But we also want them to know that it's just 500 seats, in areas where we have availability," said McLoughlin.

The reaction thus far has been strong, as sales doubled compared to the previous week. If the feedback and results are strong, McLoughlin said it could be an annual initiative, considering that October is usually a challenging time for ticket sales. 

"We think there's a lot of interest in the Blues," he said. "We had 20 sellouts [last season], and our goal is 30 this year. We think October's going to contribute to that in a big way."

But as the Blues have created a fan-friendly way to get families to the game more cheaply, they've introduced another new ticket scheme this season: Variable pricing. McLoughlin said games against the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and some others will carry a larger price tag.

"We indentified 12 games that we thought would be sellouts and very popular," he said. "Once again, it's an example why buying season tickets is the best value for your money. You're going to get a substantial discount."

He said variable pricing is outweighed by the other ticket benefits the team provides.

"We have 19 different price points in our building; everything from a $10 season ticket on down. We have over 2,000 of [the $10 tickets]. We think we have prices for everyone. These games are going to be our best games, and we decided to command a higher price," said McLoughlin.

Allowing fans to name their price, or naming it for them. It's a delicate balance, but the Blues hope to strike it.

"St. Louis is a great hockey town with 42 years of history," said McLoughlin. "We want to give them reasons to come back."

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