Can Canucks bank on resurgent fan base to boost business?

Business In Vancouver

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Vancouver Canucks
Photo: Chung Chow / Business In Vancouver

Ticket brokers in the Canucks market have been watching business fall to “an all-time low the past few years” as the National Hockey League team stumbled during subpar regular seasons, missed the playoffs repeatedly and shed much of its aging core, according to Kingsley Bailey.

“But there’s so much interest right now for this team. I’ve never seen this market so excited about hockey, probably since 2010,” said the owner of Vancouver Ticket & Tour Service Ltd.

And the Vancouver Canucks’ roster of young talent featuring Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser seems to be reigniting local interest in time for the team’s October 9 home opener.

“There is definitely that much more demand for certain games,” Bailey said. “But for the majority of games you’re still going to get in for under $75. That’s not bad.”

The team still isn’t back to the halcyon days of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

Season ticket sales have declined from a capped amount of 17,000 in that season (with 6,000 more on the waiting list) by 5% in 2014, 10% in 2015, 15% in 2017 and 10% last summer.

Overall attendance also slid from 100.3% capacity in 2010-11 to 97.5% in 2015-16 and to 95.3% last year.

The Canucks dropped from ranking eighth among NHL teams in attendance to the 14th-to-16th range in the last two years.

But Canucks Sports and Entertainment Group chief operating officer Trent Carroll said the team is projecting growth for the current season.

Season ticket membership renewals have been reaching levels not seen in six to seven years, the COO said.

“Our on-sale singles [tickets] this year was back to the heyday when we got such a solid response from people who were picking out the games that they wanted to come to. And we’ve sold more mini-packs [multiple-game bundles] this year than we sold all of last year.”

Carroll added that fans attending games at Rogers Arena should expect new projectors, lighting and a multimedia introduction.

“The visual look of coming to a game is going to change,” he said, adding the team will also be unveiling a few surprises for fans when the home opener arrives.

Meanwhile, Carroll said sales data shows a fair amount of interest in the four new jerseys unveiled in June: the updated orca for home and road games, a throwback featuring the old hockey stick logo and another throwback featuring the flying hockey skate logo.

2019-20 also marks the first hockey season in which regulated ride-hailing will be available in B.C.

Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini has long been campaigning for the province to jump on board with these services, and last year the team launched a partnership with Lyft Inc. (Nadsaq:LYFT) that saw the ride-hailing service advertised at Rogers Arena.

While Lyft is still not permitted to operate on B.C. streets, Carroll said the service came to his organization last year because of a desire to help shepherd more transportation opportunities for fans.

The COO said the anticipated deployment of ride-hailing this fall would be great for the city as well as the Canucks’ business.

“It’s going to have a really profound impact,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association. “You can see people having a bit more fun, having a few more cocktails when they go out knowing that we can get them a safe ride home.”

But Tostenson, who also serves as the head of the Ridesharing Now for BC advocacy group, does not anticipate a hot season from the Canucks upending business at downtown bars and restaurants.

“We used to be very reliant on them because we were always getting into playoff mode, and it was single-focused. But I think now what’s happened is that there’s been a lot more diversification around entertainment,” he said, noting big concerts and other sporting events have been able to “blunt the impact” of an underperforming NHL team.

“We’ve moved on beyond that. So if we have a good season this year and it gets kind of exciting, then it will just be bonus points.”

Meanwhile, retailer John Czvelka said he still expects the response to new merchandise to be somewhat muted.

Most purchases of Canucks merchandise are coming from tourists, and sales for the team have otherwise been flat, the owner of Vancity Sports on Seymour Street said.

“We used to carry huge amounts of inventory with different merchandise. We’ve [now] got basically jerseys, T-shirts, hats and a hoodie,” Czvelka said.

“We used to be crazy busy when they were in the playoffs. People would jump on the bandwagon. Nowadays you walk around town, you barely see any Canuck gear being worn.”

Like the fans, Czvelka hopes the new season will reverse those fortunes.

“At the end of the day it comes down to the team and the fans,” Carroll said.

“Even internally, we’re all so excited about this team that’s being developed by [Canucks general manager] Jim [Benning] and his group. And they’re a young, high-energy, exciting-to-watch core group. It’s going to make it fun for all of us.”

– With a file from Chuck Chiang