By David Skolnick
The owner of the Youngstown Phantoms said an attempt to sell 1,500 season tickets for the hockey team “is my last-ditch effort to keep hockey” at the city-owned Covelli Centre.
The junior hockey league team unveiled a 2013-14 season-ticket plan with new pricing fees, a new seating structure and exclusive benefits for those who buy season tickets.
“The bottom line is this is do or die” for the Phantoms, said Bruce Zoldan, team owner.
This effort comes as the team’s future at the center is uncertain.
The Phantoms’ home-game attendance has been among the worst in the United States Hockey League since the team started nearly four seasons ago.
The team needed to average at least 2,000 people a game per season for the first four years at the center for it to play a fifth season under a contract it has with the city. It hasn’t reached that number in any of its seasons. The team’s fourth regular season ends in mid-April.
The league says the team’s average attendance is about 1,700 while the center says the average number of people who actually show up to watch the Phantoms is about 1,200.
To stay another season, the Phantoms would be required under contract to pay $75,000 to the city.
Zoldan doesn’t want to pay that money. He said selling 1,500 season tickets — or even 1,000 — would show there is interest in keeping the team in Youngstown.
There currently are less than 500 season-ticket holders.
A successful season-ticket campaign hopefully would persuade city officials to let the Phantoms play at the center next year without the $75,000 fee, Zoldan said.
“I’m here to give it one good last shot, and I hope the public will support us,” he said. “We’re going to try hard to make it happen.”
While hopeful of success, Zoldan said, “The Mahoning Valley doesn’t really understand hockey. When you get the people [to games], they come back, but it’s been a difficult challenge to get people to Phantoms games.”
Game tickets now range from $6 to $25.
Just last week, Zoldan touted the least-costly tickets saying, “A family can buy tickets for $6 each.”
But under the new ticketing plan, the $6 seats, behind one of the goalies and near where the Zamboni machine access is to the ice, are eliminated.
“We weren’t selling many of those,” he said Thursday. “We’ll have promotions with family four-packs” of tickets at a discounted rate at certain games. The team hasn’t determined the price of those family special tickets, he said.
The new pricing plan gives discounts to those buying season tickets for the team’s home games. Also, most tickets bought at least 48 hours before a game will be cheaper than now.
The least-expensive tickets, behind the goalie on the west side of the arena, would be $8 a game for season-ticket holders. The tickets would be $10 if bought at least 48 hours before a game and $12 on game day. Those same seats now sell for $15.
The most-expensive tickets for center ice behind the penalty box remains $25 for single-game seats bought early or on game day.
The ticket price drops to $15 a game if you buy a season-ticket package for $450. But season tickets for those two sections also require a $150 personal-seat license paid to the center. The $150 only ensures its owner those guaranteed seats for hockey.
In effect, that fee would add $5 to each ticket in those sections.
The center sells PSLs for $300 a year plus the cost of event tickets. The center currently is running a special for $250 a year.
Most club-seat owners don’t attend hockey games, said Eric Ryan, the center’s executive director.
There are 539 seats in those two sections with about 250 club seats sold, he said.
Ryan declined to comment on the Phantoms’ season-ticket plans.
Phantom season-ticket holders would receive numerous perks including special events, access to the center’s VIP lounge, 20 percent off team merchandise, and discounts for Zoldan’s other businesses, Phantom Fireworks and the Ice Zone indoor ice-skating facility.
The Ice Zone, which is slated to close May 15 because of declining business, could play a key role in the survival of the Phantoms.
Zoldan said if Ice Zone employees and families of figure skaters and hockey players at the Boardman facility can sell 1,000 season tickets, he would keep the facility open for another year.