- Updated: November 20, 2015
The golden age of the San Jose Sharks is coming to an end. No longer is the SAP Center a formidable venue for foes but an empty shell with a few screaming fans waiting for the Sharks to do something. With 17,562 seats to fill every night, the San Jose Sharks are only getting announced crowds of 15,000+, but scanned tickets of barely 12,000. Last season was the first time I saw some announced sellouts with rows in certain sections being empty. Then there were announced non-sellout games. So what exactly is the reason there are no longer sellouts at SAP? What happened to one of the loudest buildings in all of the NHL? The problem is that there isn’t just one problem, but a myriad of them.
For starters, the San Jose Sharks haven’t been an elite team in a few years. With aging veterans and younger players learning the NHL game, the team is in a short transition period where they are just missing playoffs but still being somewhat competitive. While not quite in the basement, they also aren’t in the top and won’t be for a while. This season has shown promise that they will at least be more competitive than last year, but getting deep into the playoffs seems to be a long shot. This team doesn’t seem to be at a cup-winning caliber level, and not a lot of people like to come and watch mediocrity.
In order to fill those 17,562 seats, there needs to be a strong foundation with season ticket holders. Since the Sharks have been selling out games for over a decade, the front office became complacent in their marketing and topped it off with raising prices every season despite dropping more and more faithful fans. The season ticket holder base is now around 11,000-12,000, according to John Tortora, but I expect that to continue to drop in the coming years. Interestingly, Working the Corners points out that the Sharks added 40-45 people along with $3-4 million of non-hockey operations budget. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just lower prices by a few dollars per ticket and sellout SAP again? When the team prices out many people from games and doesn’t understand what’s going on, they need to get a dose of reality. People are showing them (rightfully so) by not pulling out their wallets.
The drop in season ticket holders isn’t just related to the price increases, however. Many season ticket holders left the Sharks when the 49ers moved to Santa Clara. When the 49ers were winning and making it to the Super Bowl, the hype for the new stadium was incredible. And with that expensive seat license to purchase season tickets, many people ditched their Sharks money to dump it into the 49ers. Personally, I think the 49ers pulled a fast one on their 49ers faithful in order to make money considering no one can sell them now, but that’s another post for a different day.
The second group of fans are the ones that watch from home but don’t have the disposable income for games since the prices are so high; this is especially true for the fans who have children. Taking a family of four to one game would cost over $200 if they sat in the cheapest seats. Add in parking, food, and drinks, and you are looking at $300+ for one night out! That isn’t exactly fan friendly and wasn’t this one of the supposed reason we had that full season lockout back in 2004? With the minor league affiliate of the Sharks moved from Worcester, Massachusetts, it makes much more sense to bring your family to those games instead. A Saturday afternoon game for a family of four would cost under $100 and you would be sitting in the lower bowl behind the goal. They play in the same arena, have very similar jerseys, and younger kids would never know the difference.
The Barracuda isn’t the only reason families are going less to Sharks games though. The San Jose Earthquakes have an extremely family friendly atmosphere with their new stadium near the San Jose Airport. The games are usually on the weekends and not as late as Sharks games, and their pricing is much better on the wallet. There is an open field on the eastern side of the stadium with bounce houses where the parents can watch their kids and watch the game at the same time. If you haven’t been to that stadium yet, I highly recommend it!
The next group of fans that used to go to Sharks games are the bandwagoners; the ones that like to only go to a few games a year, keep track of them in the headlines, and only really watch them on TV during playoffs. There isn’t anything wrong with bandwagoners as these are the fans that teams can turn into die-hards if they have a genuinely good time going. Unfortunately for the Sharks, this fan base has been spending their money recently on the other winning Bay Area team: the Golden State Warriors. With the Warriors magical run to an NBA championship last season led by the league MVP, it makes sense that people would rather spend their hard earned dollars to see a team win. Not to mention their games are many times over more exciting than Sharks games have been recently. The Warriors bandwagon is mighty, but a lot of those bandwagoners jumped into the other boat of hardcore fandom this past season, and the Sharks will not convert any of those back any time soon.
The main reason the bandwagoners left is the success of other Bay Area teams. If you look 10 years ago, the Sharks were the Bay Area’s best chance at any sort of championship for a run of at least five years. The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010, then again in 2012, then again in 2014. The San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl in 2013 and the Warriors won in 2015. The A’s have made playoffs and the Warriors also won an NBA championship in 2015. The Sharks are no longer the darling of the Bay Area, but a relic of what was. Who wants to go see the same core group of guys play and lose again when they can go see the shiny new players of other teams that win championships?
The San Jose Sharks are spinning into a downward spiral with their attendance and there isn’t a surefire way of getting out of it. They could always take on the Raiders motto of “Just Win, Baby!”, but even that will take some time and trust by fans. As of today, the Sharks are a much better road team (2nd) than a home team (25th), which is pretty sad. This only perpetuates the problem of people wanting to stay home to watch the games on TV instead of going out in person. The Sharks need to do a better job to make the in-game experience better. The goal song needed to change due to the background of Gary Glitter (I fully agree with this) but the new choice is an absolute abomination. It sounds terrible in the empty arena, no one knows it nor knows when to say hey because you can’t hear it, and it sounds like a Nickelback song. Think outside the box and don’t go for a song that yells “Hey!” just to keep it in line with the old one.
The main reason SAP Center remains desolate on game days is simple: the prices are just too high. The best and obvious evidence of this are the empty seats every night. Interestingly enough, the Sharks haven’t released the tickets to the public for the second half of the season yet. This leads me to believe a price drop may be coming – but what about for us season ticket holders? It was nice getting free tickets to a game last month, but now I have to try and find people to bring or sell them off. I’d prefer to get some money back and not more merchandise or tickets, but that is just wishful thinking. The San Jose Sharks have better get their act together or SAP is in danger of being the softest place to play in the NHL. The Sharks home record is already proving this.