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Flyers’ ticket sales, McDavid, and the NHL’s schedule

Matchup with the league’s best player highlights a league-wide problem

Edmonton Oilers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Is this a safe space? No, this is the internet. Whatever, I’m going to treat it as if it is.

I’m going to start by coming clean.

This is my first year without season tickets since the 2014-15 season. Over that time I saw Shayne Gostisbehere’s incredible rookie year, Claude Giroux’s final years as a Flyer, and a pretty shocking run before Covid stopped the Flyers’ momentum along with the rest of the world.

That said, I admit this with shame as I consider my foolishness, in part for believing in Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol, but mostly because I felt like I wore a badge of fiscal irresponsibility as I paid face value to see the Coyotes on a Tuesday.

The Edmonton Oilers are in town tonight. Or, in reality, Connor McDavid is in town tonight. There’s not much to say about McDavid that hasn’t been said already. He’s an all-time player having an all-time year. He has 41 goals and 93 points in 51 games, single-handedly making me consider the dead-puck era over.

Needless to say, I’m not going to miss this one. But I know a lot of people will.

Take a look at the secondary market for this game. It’ll cost you about as much for the bootleg Eagles shirt outside the stadium as it will to see a future Hall of Famer at the peak of his powers.

This doesn’t have much to do with the Oilers or McDavid.

I sold my fair share of tickets over the years. I know what games could at least get me my money back. Fans want see games against traditional rivals (Pittsburgh, New York, etc.) and go to games on weekends (it’s currently more expensive on SeatGeek to see the Seattle Kraken on Super Bowl Sunday than the Oilers Thursday).

There have been some reports that the league is rethinking its schedule. This is a start. But my many hours sitting in mostly empty sections of the Wells Fargo Center’s upper bowl surrounded by unstressed leather seats gave me time to reflect on what the league could do differently.

The NHL is right. We need more games against rivals. But who are the rivals? This starts with the divisions. I don’t give a damn about the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re great and I’d happily trade rosters, but they’re just one of the other seven teams in the division. These divisions are too big. We do not share a region with seven other cities. No city does. And even if there is the belief that rivalries take time to grow, there are so many divisional opponents that there are not even enough games to allow for familiarity to breed contempt.

Regardless, I don’t expect the players to carry around the same baggage about the Penguins or Rangers that I do. Rivalries exist because you’re sick of Pittsburgh’s inferiority complex with Philadelphia, or you’re tired of New York, that overpriced tourist trap, getting so much more attention than we do. We know those fans. They’re transplants in area. They’re in our arena. They might even be, gasp, friends. Rivals develop because you’d rather talk shit to Pittsburgh Bob in accounting than have him rub your team’s failures in your face. It’s about the cities.

Past those geographical rivalries, fans don’t care about the opponent. They don’t care about seeing every team every season. Their spending habits simply don’t support it. Just look at tonight’s game. A less balanced scheduled makes much more sense.

Our fans want to see the Flyers. They’re not going to go see the Avalanche on a weeknight, but they’ll see the Ducks on a Saturday. Maybe the league could force more games onto weekends like the AHL, but minor league teams do not have to accommodate an NBA co-tenant or field complaints from the Secretary of Labor about running the players into the ground. Regardless, the league is mostly on a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule. Going from a third of the games to, let’s say, 40 percent on weekends would make a difference.

The Flyers also came clean this week, admitting they are now embracing a long-term approach to turn the franchise around. Let’s be clear, they were really conceding they weren’t too proud to beg fans to keep their season tickets. And I get it. Attendance is brutal. The team is sixth from the bottom in percentage of capacity. The Flyers’ shame is that they won’t be able to sell on-ice success anytime soon, though they’re hardly the only team without Stanley Cup aspirations. Regardless of team success or organizational philosophy, the league could be doing a lot more to fill buildings.