February Games in Omaha Most Expensive of College Hockey’s Outdoor Events

The outdoor game is the best novelty act going in hockey and while it is sure to eventually wane on some levels, it’s still a hot ticket today. So hot the organizers of Battles on Ice scheduled for Feb. 8, 2013 in Omaha, Neb., are pricing their tickets rather aggressively. Perhaps too aggressively.

The event, which will include a 12:30 p.m. game against the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars and 4:07 p.m. tilt between the University of Nebraska Omaha and University of North Dakota, will be held at TD Ameritrade Park, a baseball stadium that serves as the new home of the College World Series.

As Black and Blue Blog (which follows the Lincoln Stars here) tweeted Tuesday night:

#WOW is right.

The total prices are slightly inflated by the dreaded Ticketmaster charges, but still having a low end ticket starting at $28 is asking a bit much. Especially so when considering that the vast majority of seats will be in the $50-$70 range in actuality.

OK, so this isn’t like the Winter Classic where tickets start at the low point of $89 for this year’s game (hopefully) at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, but it isn’t like the Winter Classic in any other way except that there’s also no roof in Omaha.

The Winter Classic isn’t a fair comparison, admittedly, but when compared to previous collegiate outdoor games, the tickets for Battles on Ice — which sounds more like a reality show than a hockey game — seem even more off base.

The outdoor game has become a college hockey staple in recent years. After all, the modern-day outdoor novelty act was essentially born when, in 2001, Michigan State welcomed Michigan to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing for the Cold War.

However, since 2009 there have been nine outdoor games played by men’s Division I college hockey teams over six separate events. There were multi-game events at Fenway Park in 2010 and 2012, the Camp Randall Hockey Classic at the University of Wisconsin’s football stadium in 2010, The Big Chill at the Big House at Michigan Stadium in 2010, a game between AIC and Army at Whalers Hockey Fest located in Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., in 2011 and the Frozen Diamond Faceoff at Progressive Field in Cleveland in 2011.

Additionally, there will be multiple outdoor games this winter, with the entire Great Lakes Invitational being played at Detroit’s Comerica Park as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival in December, which is involved in the Winter Classic buildup. Then the week following Battles on Ice, the Hockey City Classic featuring a college hockey doubleheader with power-programs Notre Dame, Miami, Wisconsin and Minnesota will occur at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Most of the previous (and future) Division I games took place in either a major city or a large on-campus facility of a school with a giant student and alumni base. Presumably, for many of those events there would be a higher demand and higher prices.

All of those events’ lowest-priced tickets were cheaper than what is currently being offered at the lowest end for the Battles on Ice event.

Frozen Fenway’s cheapest seats were standing room and started as low as $5. Despite them being standing room, they offered a very viable option for folks to show up. The Hockey City Classic slated for Feb. 17 at the home of the Chicago Bears is offering $15 seats as its low point. The Big Chill, which set a world record in attendance for a hockey game, also had $15 tickets. Camp Randall’s game had tickets priced at $25 for the general public and $10 for students, which brought in more than 55,000, but fell short of the stadium’s 80,000-seat capacity.

The football stadiums obviously could fit more people, so it was easier to charge less. Perhaps not a fair comparison, but still worth noting.

The Frozen Diamond Faceoff, however, is a much better example. Tickets for the event hosted at the home of the Cleveland Indians, featuring classic rivals Michigan and Ohio State, ranged from $10 to $100. They only managed to fill a little more than half the building, but brought in nearly 26,000 spectators. That’s pulling from an above-average media market, two schools within a three-hour drive and a pair of gigantic alumni bases, but still falling short in terms of capacity.

Another fair comparable is the Great Lakes Invitational taking place at the Hockeytown Winter Festival this December. With Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan competing over two days at the home of the Detroit Tigers, tickets are going for as little as $22 (including Ticketmaster fees) and the most expensive tickets are merely $42 including. There are two games on both days of the GLI. This is all part of the Winter Classic buildup in Detroit and the GLI often draws well at Joe Louis Arena when held there, so there should be a very high interest, likely enough to put a lot of people in the seats in Comerica.

Omaha is not a small town, but it is not a major-league town and on top of that, a non-traditional hockey market. TD Ameritrade Park has a seating capacity of 24,000, so it doesn’t have nearly as many seats to fill as previous venues.

Battles on Ice seating chart with pricing. (via TD Ameritrade Park)

The question remains, however, is there going to be a high enough demand for these tickets to watch Junior A and college hockey games? High enough to fill 24,000 seats at those prices? Is the outdoor novelty enough to attract both the casual and die-hard fans anymore?

A family of four would have to shell out $156 just to get in the door and have semi-decent to poor seats or at least $200 for the next cheapest, then there’s the concessions. May not seem like a lot to the average NHL fan, but for minor league and college towns it is.

The high ticket prices also may give some of the North Dakota faithful — a typically well-traveling fan base — pause on making the trip to Omaha. Despite it being a great town (seriously, Omaha restaurants are amazing), fans won’t be going for the destination. It’s a long drive down. High gas prices combined with high ticket prices could be prohibitive for a lot of folks. On top of that, North Dakota and Omaha are not big rivals, beyond being conference opponents. It all comes down to how badly someone wants to see their team play outside.

When this game was announced I was instantly excited about the possibilities for the area and an opportunity to help grow awareness of the USHL and college hockey locally. With the saturation of outdoor games, especially within college hockey this year, the Battles on Ice event becomes one that will have a far greater impact locally than nationally. As such, aggressively pricing tickets in a way that is going to be prohibitive for many locally and less attractive to traveling fans could prove detrimental to the overall ticket sales. That then affects the overall experience for the folks that did buy the tickets and turns off those that were iced out on cost.

These things aren’t cheap to put on, that’s for sure, but expecting a small, non-traditional hockey market to fill a stadium at prices that are historically high against comparable events seems like a poor decision.

This isn’t a knock on Omaha or the fans there at all. It’s been a pretty great sports town and has gained plenty of big time events in the past, supporting each of them passionately. It just seems like a bit of an unfair price tag compared to similar events in recent years.

This thing has to make money for whoever’s putting it on, but if you’re going to do an event like this, make sure it’s done with the local fan in mind. If there isn’t a way to make the event even a little more inclusive, then why have it at all?

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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