The official attendance on the scoresheets of the first three New York Ranger home games was the same each night - a sell-out of 18,200. For those of us actually in the building, we have noticed a good number of those supposedly-sold seats empty. Usually empty seats in MSG is just chalked up to corporations not giving away their tickets but it may be a sign of something worse.
Adding to that simmering feeling of dread is the repeated e-mail updates, ads on the scoreboard and new banner ad on the website advertising that tickets were still available for the next three games. Now how is that possible? Those next three games are on Friday against an Original Six foe, Monday against Sean Avery's new team and Saturday the 25th against the Cole Harbour Queen Cindy Crosby.
Their rotating ad on the homepage links you to a Ticketmaster page where you buy tickets directly it doesn't take you to the TicketExchange where season ticket holders are selling their own seats. That means that there are even more seats available that went unsold.
As of 1 a.m. on Thursday night/Friday morning there were 868 tickets for the Leafs, 1,029 for the Stars and 491 for the Pens available on the Exchange.
It is utterly shocking to me that 1 - there would be tickets still available for those games and 2 - the Rangers would have to aggressively advertise to fill the seats. These aren't the Panthers who have to give tickets away for free. These aren't the Coyotes who made things as family friendly and wallet friendly to get anyone to come to their home opener. And this isn't Nashville; the beer is cheaper here.
What could it be? Rangers are 5-1 so it can't be performance related (unless anyone else got as physically ill as I did watching the Buffalo game). Is it name recognition? No, because Toronto Maple Leafs, Sean Avery and Sidney Crosby are three of the biggest names in the game. Is it the crowded New York sports market? No, the Yankees and Mets didn't make the playoffs, the Knicks haven't started their regular season yet and neither New Jersey-based football team is setting the NFL on fire right about now. Since I refuse to think that New York's taste for hockey is waning, it leaves one thing: ticket costs. The prices are just too exorbitant in this difficult economic climate. With the NYSE index looking like a Six Flags roller coaster ride, hockey fans are finding the Garden's ticket prices too costly for their limited disposable income to handle.
While I am not going to advocate cutting ticket prices - I am not completely delusional - I do think that the Rangers can fix this. You know how?
*Increase game-night giveaways. The only giveaway thus far was a magnetic schedule before the Devil game. People like free stuff and the Rangers have no promotions listed on their home page and are notorious for not doing much of anything in recent years aside from schedules and cheesy towels during the playoffs.
*Increase contests. Everyone likes to win something and the chance to win something big is always nice. And I am not talking about a signed Petr Prucha stick for winning the human puck race or pedal car race during the intermissions. I am talking about seat upgrades, tickets to future games or even game-worn jerseys.
*And the easiest and cheapest way: increase the drama. Nowhere on the Rangers website is it mentioned that Sean Avery is coming to town. A fan favourite who left town to get a big contract, Sean can easily be set up as a villain and as Avery himself has mentioned, this league needs villains. The same goes for golden boy Crosby, who is kinda good and has performed some last-second heroics before in MSG.
Now I am not being Chicken Little and crying that the sky is falling, but I am saying that there is cause for concern and the matter needs to be closely watched going forward. The Rangers have artist renditions of the upcoming renovation to the Garden standing up in the lobby and unless they do something soon to ensure fans keep coming, they may have to bust out the erasers.