Orangeville resident Matthew Rice is a devoted Leafs fan, but 99 percent of the time, he’s watching his team play on a screen instead of being at a game, because of the cost. “I’ve heard of people driving to Buffalo to watch there. Friends of mine have caught a game while they were on vacation in Florida because it’s a lot cheaper,” he said in a phone conversation. He saw the Leafs in Toronto for his 33rd birthday a few weeks ago—two 300-level tickets cost about $500 and were a present from his wife. That was a special event and he says buying tickets again involves saving up for a few months, or years. “I wouldn’t spend that much money normally.”
Thanks to the Forbes list of average ticket prices hockey fans are well aware that NHL tickets are the most expensive of all the pro sports in this country, and the Toronto Maple Leafs in particular are in a league of their own when it comes to pricing. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The resale market has driven up the already pricey world of pro hockey, putting it even further out of reach for fans—especially young people. According to Norm O’Reilly, Director of the International Institute for Sports Business and Leadership at the University of Guelph, the vast majority of attendees weren’t the original purchaser of the seat they occupy—they were either a gift, corporate giveaway, or a resale. And then there’s the added cost of enjoying yourself at a game by downing a few overpriced tall cans.
O’Reilly says “the ticket price in some cities is 50 percent of what you’ll spend and in other cities it’s 20 percent of the total experience because of food, travel, beer, merchandise.” A look at the resale market reveals much more about the true value of the NHL experience, which can change as the season unfolds. O'Reilly gives a hypothetical example. “Let’s say the Leafs go on this massive crash after Christmas and lose 30 games in a row, no one wants to go. People are dumping their tickets. You’ll find them on the secondary market for extremely low prices and high availability so it really becomes a function of supply and demand driven by team performance, attractiveness of the game.”
For all these reasons, a look at secondary market prices paint a more complete picture. A major NHL ticket reseller is TickPick and it crunched the Canadian numbers (average price for a 2018/2019 regular season home game) for VICE.
Team Marketing Report is a sports analytics firm that compiles a Fan Cost Index (FCI) which includes the price of four average tickets (two adults and two kids), two small beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, two adult-sized hats and parking. The last figures it has published are from 2015, which means these total costs are actually lower than what you can expect to spend today, but they do give a good overview and ranking of the teams. Check out the list of how much you need to shell out to watch an NHL game across Canada, starting with the most outrageously expensive cities:
1) Toronto Maple Leafs
Avg. secondary market ticket: $389
Fan Cost Index: $807
No surprise here, the Leafs are the most expensive team to watch, and their games are among the most popular (regardless of whether you want to cheer them on or root against them). Yearly hikes in ticket prices are common across the board, but ticket prices for Leafs Nation have been increasing by an outsized 15 percent annually for the last few years. Another reason the TML are such an outlier boils down to the fact that 90 percent of Scotiabank Arena’s seats are held by season ticket holders, including corporations (which explains the sheer number of “suits” in attendance).
Kyle Zorn is TickPick’s Marketing and PR Content Strategist and he says it’s a classic case of limited supply, and plenty of demand. “We have 269 tickets available for the next Toronto Maple Leafs game compared to 2,126 tickets for the next Ottawa Senators game.”
2) Winnipeg Jets
Avg. secondary market ticket: $277
Fan Cost Index: $588
Demand for Jets tickets is impressive when you consider that the city has the second-smallest population on this list and Winnipeg residents have the least disposable income per capita of the entire league (that’s the money leftover after paying for housing, food and taxes). The fact that performance-wise, the Jets are right up there with the Leafs, doesn’t hurt either. Winnipeg fans are among the most loyal, based on an important metric--home-game regular season attendance which is the highest of any Canadian team.
The Bell MTS Place ranks among the lowest in the league in terms of stadium capacity (it can accomodate more than 15,000 people, not including standing seats). During the playoffs last year, there were nearly as many hockey fans watching the game outside the stadium as there were cheering inside it which has led to some regret that the stadium was constructed with Winnipeg’s relatively small population in mind, but didn’t factor in its outsized hockey interest and appeal.
3) Edmonton Oilers
Avg. secondary market ticket: $248
Fan Cost Index: $532
Based on the stats, Oilers fans may not pay as much for tickets, but they spend a lot while they’re watching live NHL games. The Edmonton team has one of the highest amounts of revenue per fan of any Canadian team (second only to the Winnipeg Jets), with each bringing in $153.
4) Vancouver Canucks
Avg. secondary market ticket: $221
Fan Cost Index: $619
The Canucks are an interesting case because although they rank second in terms of total cost to see a game, their tickets sell for less, on average than the Winnipeg Jets’. A lot of things figure into this, including the Jets’ stellar playing record and lineup. Another key factor is higher prices for parking and beer in Vancouver.
5) Montreal Canadiens
Avg. secondary market ticket: $221
Fan Cost Index: $568
The Canadiens have a reputation for having the most vocal and fierce fans in the land, but lower demand for tickets has dampened prices. The Habs snapped a 14-year sellout streak last month, and season-ticket sales (which account for 70 percent of tickets) are down nearly one percent this year. The Canadiens sellout streak is impressive when you factor in the fact that with a regular capacity of 21,302 seats, the Bell Centre in Montreal is the second-largest in the league (Chicago has more capacity because of standing room tickets, which Montreal no longer has).
Rup Magon is a Toronto-based actor and musician and a die-hard Habs fan. He attends about 4 games a year although he used to go a lot more often. He remembers paying $10 for a playoff, standing-room only ticket in 1992 at the Montreal forum when he says he waited in line for seven hours to get seats. “I watched Russ Courtnall score in game 7, double overtime. The Habs beat Hartford and won the series.”
He says he doesn’t mind how much more expensive tickets have gotten over the years. “Sports is a big business that costs a lot of money overall, including players’ exorbitant salaries. That falls onto us and I’m OK with it. That said, I’m not OK with $15 beer. That’s highway robbery.”
6) Calgary Flames
Avg. secondary market ticket: $184
Fan Cost Index: $482
Calgary just recently killed its bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, which would have included much-needed improvements to the Saddledome, home to the Flames. The 35-year old arena is the second-oldest in the league. Despite their outdated facilities, Calgary’s revenue per fan ranks fourth among Canadian teams at $97.
7) Ottawa Senators
Avg. secondary market ticket: $124
Fan Cost Index: $362
The Sens rank dead last on this list of Canadian NHL teams on both the secondary market ticket price and the total game cost metrics. This team has been plagued with a string of off-ice drama, including (in chronological order): a strange and nasty war of words that ended with the trades of star players Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman, owner Eugene Melnyk’s bizarre interview, Sens players caught bad-mouthing their boss in an Uber.
Although Melnyk has been accused of mismanaging the team and not being willing to spend money on it, it has been a standout on one important metric. Based on 2107 figures, the Ottawa Senators boasted the highest wins-to-player-cost ratio in Canada, meaning that at least from a business perspective, there was a time when this team garnered the most wins for the least amount of player salary.
If I had to choose a team to support it would be the Sens because I lived in Ottawa for 7 years. Call it blind loyalty, or an unwillingness to be part of Leafs Nation. But I can do basic math. Based on the fact that there’s a $265 dollar price difference between the average secondary market ticket for a Leafs and a Sens home game, and a $445 total fan cost… It would be worth it from a budgeting perspective to make the trek to Ottawa to watch a Leafs game at the Canadian Tire Centre (if Buffalo isn’t on your radar). Montreal is also feasible distance-wise, and I’m told the atmosphere is decidedly less corporate than it is in Toronto, which is pretty valuable when it comes to live sports.