It wasn’t that long ago the Boston Bruins could barely give away tickets. One of the National Hockey League’s founding franchises was so unpopular that in the 2006-2007 season it ranked 25th out of 30 teams in attendance.
But as the Bruins embark on a new season with high expectations, they have rebounded so high that fans are clamoring for seats at TD Garden, routinely paying double the face value of tickets to sold-out games on websites such as StubHub.com. The average sale price for a regular-season ticket on the secondary market is $218.75, according to the ticket aggregator TiqIQ, 35 percent higher than it was at the start of last season.
Business is so good that the team is rolling out a new, high-end ticket package that includes up to 20 seats in an executive suite with a legendary player, such as Ray Bourque or Johnny Bucyk — for $10,000 to $15,000 per game.
“When I got here in ’07, it was tough to get half a building full,” said Bruins president Cam Neely, himself a former player. “Obviously there was a lot of work done on the ice and off the ice putting the team together. It’s been such a great treat for me, because I was so used to playing in front of full houses.”
By winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 and making another finals appearance last spring, the Bruins have woken up a dormant hockey town that hasn’t been so enthusiastic about its team since Neely’s playing days, in the 1980s and 1990s.
That interest in the Bruins continues to grow is especially impressive coming off of a lockout-shortened season. The work stoppage was the NHL’s third in 19 years, and some league observers predicted it would cause legions of fans to turn their backs on the sport.
Yet the loss of 34 games last year only seemed to whet the appetite of Bruins fans, who filled the Garden every night for the third straight season. With most key players returning this year, and high-scoring forward Jarome Iginla added to the lineup, the Bruins’ momentum appears to be carrying over.
“Even though there’s been a hiatus, and the Red Sox are grabbing attention, there’s an inner circle of intense hockey fans and a second tier of casual fans who are excited about the start of a full season with a high-performing goalie and a lot of potential,” said Stephen A. Greyser, a sports marketing expert at Harvard Business School.
Ticket prices suggest fans are more excited about the Bruins than the other team at the Garden, the Boston Celtics, which parted ways with head coach Doc Rivers and star players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett during the offseason. The going rate for a seat at a Celtics game in the coming season is $115.23 on the secondary market.
Neely said the key to the Bruins’ ticket turnaround is post-season success. During a period of low attendance, he noted, “there was about 10 years of decent or good regular seasons and then making an early exit or not making the playoffs the next year.”
“You also had the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics doing really well,” Neely said. “It was easy for fans to focus their attention on something else because of our lack of success in the playoffs.”
Greyser added that the Bruins’ popularity surge has coincided with a renewed financial commitment to winning by owner Jeremy Jacobs. Since 2005, when the NHL imposed a limit on how much teams can spend on their rosters, the Bruins have made a habit of spending the maximum. A demonstrated willingness to pay for top talent has helped the club win fans’ confidence, Greyser said.
At The Four’s, a sports bar near the Garden, patrons used to question whether Jacobs cared more about turning a profit than winning a title, recalled owner Peter Colton.
“I think they felt betrayed by ownership,” Colton said. “They thought they were not really in it to win — just maybe qualify for the playoffs — and people were griping and grumbling about not being committed to a championship. That’s all changed.”