Sabres game night additions are welcome change

September 13, 2017

The call for the Sabres to keep pace with the rest of the league with giveaways, fan engagement and arena atmosphere has been answered.

Just last month, the team announced a number of new features coming to Key Bank Center for the 2017-18 season that includes eight giveaway nights.

While the promotional giveaways are probably the most exciting addition, the Sabres have also introduced new ticket purchasing options and game presentation changes which ought to appease even the most ardent critics of the organization.

The Sabres were previously one of the few teams in the NHL who did little to nothing in terms of giveaways. Aside from the annual magnet schedule giveaway – a must have, by the way – the team rested on the 2.5% Sabrebucks kickback for season ticket holders, but not much else.

Coupled with a lousy on-ice product and a lackluster in-arena atmosphere, the game-night experience at Key Bank Center had really deteriorated for many fans. Column inches, tweets, radio segments and more were devoted to the problem and the Sabres were listening.

There’s no overnight solution to fixing the quiet arena. A favorite fallback of the organization was to simply say the atmosphere will improve once the team starts winning.

While the stance isn’t wrong, it is lazy.

As important as a winning product is in all of this (and it is very, very important), hitting play on Kiss 98.5’s top tracks, and featuring video board contests that would look more at home in a minor league ballpark, won’t get the job done. There was certainly room for improvement outside of the requisite tallies in the win column.

But the team has listened and made changes. That shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Whether you’re a vehement critic of how the team conducts its business, or just simply want to watch hockey, knowing that the team shaped changes based on fan feedback is incredibly important to keep in mind.

The full scope of the changes should all be welcome additions for the fan base. The addition of a new pricing tier in the 300 level seems like a prudent decision, and the new Flex Pass is downright brilliant — tickets for a month for only $89. It’s good to see the fan flag back again — how about putting a clever slogan on it (not Sharpen Your Swords)? Adding more organ music is fine, although younger fans may not care as much for it.

I’d expect to see some new wrinkles to game presentation beyond the organ, as I was told the Sabres game presentation team visited various arenas during the playoffs to see what other teams do on a game to game basis.

Of course, the biggest change is the addition of giveaways. Eight of them is right in line with the league average, so if you were thinking that number was low, think again.

As this is Buffalo’s first year jumping into this practice, don’t expect them to be as in-depth as the Sharks have been in the past, nor have as many big ticket items as the Blues. They’ll likely have a similar offering to what the Penguins are doing this season – a mix of kid and adult-friendly items that will please ticket holders of any age.

The entire set is pretty solid. There are a couple of duds, but even the lesser items fit a segment of the team’s demographic. For example, the growth charts aren’t going to interest many fans above the age of nine, but it will be a great item for kids to take home and use. The rest of the list better suits the adult fans – t-shirts, koozies, etc. – and that’s a good thing. The opening night t-shirts, St. Patrick’s Day koozies and Winter Classic towels all ought to be popular items. The dog tags ought to draw plenty of interest themselves, as will the magnet schedules. What stands out most to me are the Hockey Fights Cancer Scarves and Fan Appreciation Night bobbleheads.

What I was really hoping to see from the Sabres – to make fans see value in giveaways – were high-quality, big-ticket items. The Hockey Fights Cancer scarves are likely to be incredibly attractive, and I have little doubt the bobbleheads won’t be any less impressive.

It would have been very easy for the Sabres to throw together a small list of low-cost giveaways as a first entry into the practice. Instead, they will be dropping at least three really solid giveaways throughout the year (scarves, towels and bobbleheads). Even better, they’ll be going to everyone in attendance, rather than just ten or twelve thousand like last year.

The collection is varied enough that it should garner interest from young and older fans alike, meaning the team should see a return in the form of butts in the seats as well. While a giveaway isn’t going to make fans cheer louder, there ought to be a marked difference in the makeup of the crowd at these games.

Fan Appreciation Night could be a perfect litmus test for this. While Ottawa doesn’t present quite the resale market that Montreal, Pittsburgh or Toronto present, there are still plenty of fans wearing Senators jerseys throughout the season. If the bobblehead they’re giving away that night – dollars to donuts it’s a Jack Eichel likeness – convinces just half of the fans who usually resell their tickets to hold onto them, you’ll see a drastic difference in turnout.

One thing I’ve harped on, when it comes to giveaways and other promotions, is that if the team lays the right foundation they will see fan interest and engagement grow exponentially. This goes for both the small (for the giveaways) and large scale (in-arena and general interest in the team). The team is pushing towards an upswing and if you not only give fans a reason to be at the game, but another reason to have interest, all of the mitigating factors will combine to create an even more engaged and connected crowd.

Bravo to the Sabres for utilizing fan feedback in their decision-making process. Fans have good reason for looking forward to what’s to come this season, and how the giveaway promotions will grow in the years ahead.

Chris Ostrander
About Chris Ostrander

Chris Ostrander is a contributor to The Buffalo Star and also runs the Sabres and Buffalo-focused blog Two in the Box and The Instigator Podcast. Fascinated by design, gear and fan engagement, Chris is a goaltending fanatic with a passion for Buffalo development.

Browse more articles by Chris Ostrander.

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Nice read, I really hope the game night experience does improve. I love going to hockey games, I live in Canton Ohio which is an absolute hockey deadzone. I have season tickets to the Bills which has helped convert my girlfriend from a former steeler fan to a Bills diehard. She LOVES the New Era Field experience! getting her to come to Key Bank Arena however is a tough sell, she looks at that experience the same way i look forward to shopping in amish country with her sisters; completely dead eyed but I gotta play my part to make… Read more »
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