The Bruins have a chance to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight, and it is tough to get a ticket to the game at TD Garden.
But not quite as tough as it used to be.
The average price to see a first-round playoff game at the Garden is $236.12 on the secondary ticket market. That’s 5 percent lower than prices commanded two years ago, when the Bruins were on their way to ending a 39-year championship drought.
During last year’s playoffs, when the team attempted to defend its title, prices were down by 10 percent, according to TiqIQ, an online marketplace that aggregates inventory from major resellers like StubHub, eBay, and TicketNetwork.
The decline suggests a psychological shift among fans of a championship-starved sports franchise. The pursuit of a long-awaited prize — and the hope that this is the year — may be more compelling than the quest to win it all again.
“Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it,” said Bob Lobel, a former sports anchor at WBZ-TV. “Doesn’t mean it gets old. It just gets different.”
Sports fans have long observed that teams often lack urgency in the seasons that follow a championship. After winning a title, it can be difficult for professional athletes to train and play with the same hunger that drove them before.
Fans’ appetites, too, can be suppressed in the wake of victory, especially in a city like Boston, where watching in vain as the local teams chased elusive trophies once defined the fan experience. The Patriots’ Super Bowl win in 2001 was the first in the 42-year history of the franchise. The Red Sox endured the “Curse of the Bambino” for 86 years before winning the World Series in 2004.
“I know emotionally, as a Bostonian, you didn’t really know how to root for the Red Sox after they finally won the World Series,” said George Pyne, president of IMG Sports & Entertainment, and a Massachusetts native. “It makes perfect emotional sense that there’s a slight dropoff.”
Even the relatively modest 18-year span between Celtics titles in 1986 and 2008 seemed like an eternity for a team that had won 16 championships.
By 2011, the Bruins were the only remaining source of perennial anguish for a Boston fan base that had suddenly enjoyed a glut of success. When the team broke through and hoisted the Cup for the first time in nearly four decades, it removed a key ingredient from future playoff runs, Lobel suggested.
“The pursuit, the excitement the Bruins were able to generate — it’s going to be difficult to duplicate 2011,” Lobel said.
Fans elsewhere experience the same letdown: First-round playoff tickets to see the Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup for the first time last year, are 26 percent cheaper now than they were in 2012.
Diehards might still be willing to pay top dollar, “but there’s certainly a segment of the bandwagon that feels they’ve already been served by the championship, and that was the reason for being on the bandwagon,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “They’ll still support the team, but they feel like, ‘Maybe I’ll watch the next one from home.’ ”
There is another factor that also reduces postseason fever, said Michael A. Leeds, a sports economist at Temple University. After witnessing a deep playoff run, fans expect more of their team.
“Achieving at a certain level no longer generates the buzz it once would have,” Leeds said.
When the Texas Rangers qualified for the baseball playoffs in 2010 for the first time in a decade, the going rate for a ticket to their first series was $202.92. The team went on to reach the World Series but lost to the San Francisco Giants.
Though the Rangers did not win a championship, they raised the bar so high that another playoff berth in 2011 failed to generate the kind of excited spending experienced during the previous appearance. Tickets to the team’s first postseason series sold for an average of $109.21.
Winning is always a draw, but “it’s never going to be as good, or as important, the second time around,” Leeds said.