A Blues Revival
In a year's time a new management trio has transformed a rock-bottom team into a winner -- and a hot ticket -- in St. Louis
Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 12:13PM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 12:13PM
An official team portrait hangs in the lobby of the St. Louis Blues offices, which would hardly make the organization unique among NHL teams if there did not happen to be 122 people in it. From goalies to gofers, from stay-at-home defensemen to moms with careers, the franchise is standing up -- except for those in the front row -- for the idea of collective accountability.
Not that the Blues had an option. Early last season there weren't 122 fans sitting in the lower bowl of the Scottrade Center.
That, of course, is an exaggeration, but despite having the lowest ticket prices in the league, including 2,300 priced at only $7, St. Louis usually had as many empty seats as it did occupied ones. "The disconnect between this team and this great sports city was huge," says team president John Davidson, the popular former goaltender and broadcaster, who is the most public face of the franchise. "We needed to earn the trust back. It was up to everyone in our organization."
After worthy displays of marketing, groveling and, yes, even hockey, the Blues are back. The new ownership group, which took over in June 2006, stumbled early by raising ticket prices 8% for what had been the NHL's worst team in 2005-06. But they learned. Last February principal owner Dave Checketts rolled back prices and apologized, earning major civic points. Now the club has taken advantage of an opening in the St. Louis fan base left by the tumbling Cardinals and feckless Rams to reposition itself in the market. In addition to the Blues' on-ice misery last season -- as well as the continued disaffection of fans from the lockout -- the team was overshadowed by the Cardinals' new stadium and their trip to the World Series. The Cards' playoff run and the team's new seat-licensing policy, says Checketts, "took a lot of money out of the market."
The new motto of the organization is Whatever It Takes, and the Blues have already done enough that on Oct. 30 there were 14,222 in attendance to see a team that had won six of its first nine games. That was still 5,000 short of capacity but, says Davidson, one of Checketts's first hires, "last year, on a Tuesday in October against Phoenix, we probably would have had six [thousand]." Revenue from tickets sold this season has already surpassed the ticket revenue from all of 2006-07, a solid start for a team that was 7-5 through last Saturday.
The resurgence truly began last winter when the Blues hired the person with the foresight to include every employee in the team picture: coach Andy Murray.