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Penguins Penguins drop ticket prices

Fans send loud message

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The message probably was delivered by the thousands of empty seats in Mellon Arena on so many game nights during the 2002-03 season.

And if Penguins officials hadn't gotten it then, it surely would have come through via the season-ticket holder survey they did last month.

However it happened, team management obviously caught on to fans' belief that Penguins tickets were overpriced, so they announced across-the-board cuts on full-season and 20-or-more-game ticket packages yesterday.

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The largest reduction, $9, is on D Level seats, which will go from $39 to $30. The smallest is $1, from $28 to $27, on E Balcony tickets.

The cuts will mean a reduction of at least 23 percent for 3,500 seats at Mellon Arena,

"Our goal is to make Penguins hockey affordable to as many of our fans as possible," owner Mario Lemieux said in a prepared statement. "The fans have voiced a concern about ticket prices. We've heard them, loud and clear."

A year ago, the Penguins held the line on season-ticket prices but raised the cost of at-the-gate tickets.

Because there is a direct correlation between money the Penguins generate and the amount they're able to spend, dropping ticket prices could have a negative impact on things like player payroll unless the reduction spurs an increase in attendance.

"There's a constant challenge between generating enough revenue and trying to make prices as affordable as you can," said Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications. "We're always dealing with that equation. The more you can bring prices down and still generate the proper revenue, the better.

"These are challenging times. But from a revenue standpoint, we believe you can do the ticket reductions and not hurt yourself."

The Penguins sold the equivalent of about 8,100 season tickets last season, down about 1,600 from 2001-02. Mellon Arena seats 16,958 for hockey; the Penguins' average attendance in 2002-03 was 14,755.

McMillan said there is not a target figure for attendance in 2003-04, but that luring more fans is a priority.

"Obviously, when there are seats to sell, you want to sell more seats," he said. "Attendance has gone down here for a couple of years, and we want to start filling the building back up. We won't set an actual goal, but the general goal is to get better than we have been."

The Penguins do not plan to announce individual-game and Flex-10 package prices until summer. McMillan said the prices for the team's Student Rush and Mario Lemieux Family programs will not change.

In addition to cutting prices for season-ticket buyers, the Penguins are adding amenities for them. That package is highlighted by a meeting with Lemieux, team president Ken Sawyer and General Manager Craig Patrick May 29 at Mellon Arena.

"They'll get together directly with our top brass," McMillan said. "We'll meet with them, talk with them about our plans. They'll hear from Mario and Craig and Ken. There will be a video. We'll do feedback from the surveys we sent out.

"This is the first time we've done something like this. We plan to make it an annual event."

And will hope, no doubt, that cutting tickets prices won't have to be.

Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144.

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