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From his pair of lower-bowl seats in Rogers Arena, Glen Mund had a particularly good view of the ice. But for the first time since 2001, he won’t be there this fall, and for the Vancouver Canucks that’s a problem. A record number of season ticket holders, the team’s most dedicated fans, are expected to break their relationship this year—at a loss of $10,000 in Mund’s case alone—adding to a series of financial headaches for what was once one of the most lucrative franchises in the National Hockey League.It’s a brouhaha the team has not faced in over a decade. Season ticket sales are down 30 percent from last season, TV viewership has declined from 500,000 in 2011 to 275,000 today, and a low Canadian dollar is eating into the Canucks’ bottom line. Meanwhile, the team’s solutions (fluctuating ticket pricing, for example) aren’t satisfying the bread and butter of the team’s base: season ticket holders like Mund.
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It’s a far cry from the Luongo era that reached its peak in 2011, when the Canucks came cringingly close to winning their first Stanley Cup. While the company owned and operated by the Aquilini family does not disclose financials, a November 2015 analysis by Forbes pegged the franchise’s total valuation at $745 million (U.S.), down seven percent from the year before. Moreover, the team’s pre-tax profit dropped to $36 million from $47 million.“The expectations of fans have been so high for so long that even just missing the playoffs makes it feel like the team is at the bottom of the standings,” says Tom Mayenknecht, a sports business commentator and host on TSN 1040. Consequently, fans aren’t willing to pay what they once were to watch a game. Leading up to the 2011 playoffs, tickets sometimes sold for five or six times their stated value. Contrast that with the end of last season, when tickets were selling for as low as $10, according to Kingsley Bailey, general manager of Vancouver Ticket and Tour Service.And then there are season ticket holders, who once filled 17,000 of the arena’s 18,000 seats. Between 2014 and 2015, renewal rates fell from 95 percent to 90 percent. This year, they may have fallen as low as 75 percent, according to Bailey, who bases his calculation off current ticket availabilities. “The fans are not sold, and so they’ve walked away from the game,” he says. Foremost among their grievances is the drop in the price of single-game tickets while the team has kept season ticket prices flat. “The lack of respect that we get is a little bit dismaying,” Mund says.
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But waning popularity isn’t the only financial hardship facing the Canucks. While the team’s revenues are earned in Canadian dollars, its expenses, notably its roster, are denominated in USD. When the Canadian dollar is weak, as it is now, the cost of paying for that roster increases significantly. For every one-cent drop in the loonie, the team is out roughly $700,000.On other measures, however, the Canucks are performing just fine. Their $6-million-a-year contract with Rogers for naming rights of the stadium is the highest among Canadian teams, and Mayenknecht estimates they still rake in around $40 million a year in TV rights fees. He also points out that the team is embarking on a rebuild and has never fallen outside of the top seven or eight in the league in terms of revenue. “On the box-office side of things, they’re still the envy of other teams,” he says.But Mayenknecht recognizes that the drop in fan interest is a concern. Edmonton, which hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade, still sells out its season tickets. Perhaps the Canucks really do have fair-weather fans.The solution will inevitably come on the ice. Mund, who chose not to renew tickets under his own name, plans to divvy up a pair of seats with his mother-in-law, another long-time season ticket holder. And he is open to buying season tickets again. “It’s a major financial decision,” he says. “But if they can win, it’s worth it.”