The Buffalo Sabres can control only so much on the ice. But they certainly can direct a lot of facets of the experience in and around KeyBank Center, and the team is embarking upon several new fan initiatives for the 2017-18 season.
Gate giveaways, more organ music and less chatter during breaks in play, a monthly ticket pass and much more use of mobile applications are all on the docket as the team prepares for the season opener Oct. 5 against Montreal.
Many of the changes were driven by feedback from season ticket-holders and social media.
"We did a survey last season to really do a deep dive and find out some of the concerns, some of the things our fans want to see and want to have," said Mike Gilbert, Sabres senior vice president. "Sometimes we think we know what they want. It's no different than any business. ... When you actually talk to them and find out some of things that really matter to them, you learn. We took all that in and when you don't make the playoffs, you have that much more time to analyze and look at the data.
"With Pegula Sports and Entertainment, we've become a deeper operation with the ability and resources to study. So we made some decisions to roll these things out and make the experience better for the fans."
The Sabres have not yet released figures on season-ticket renewals, although Gilbert acknowledged there were cancellations after the team's sixth straight non-playoff year. He said, however, that most of those are expected to be soaked up by new fans off the team's waiting list and new Mini-pack customers. The Sabres had a 97 percent renewal rate last year and capped season sales at 16,000 seats in the 19,070-seat arena.
The Sabres previously announced seats as low as $25 per game for corners in the top four rows of the 300 level, as well as minipack pricing that starts as low as $25 per game. Mini-packs for the 2017-18 season went on sale Wednesday morning.
Their latest innovation will be dubbed the "Sabres Flex Pass" and will allow fans to access multiple games in a month by paying an $89 subscription fee. Tickets will be offered for 35 of the 40 home games, subject to availability, and can be requested 24 hours prior to the game. The subscriptions will go on sale Sept. 16 – the same day individual game tickets go on sale – and the Sabres are still determining how many they will offer.
A monthly pass has started cropping up in baseball in cities such as St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Oakland, but the Sabres believe they're the first NHL or NBA team to offer one.
The Sabres moved to mobile ticketing last year and are pushing fans to sign up for the One Buffalo app because it can impact numerous aspects of their game-night experience.
Fans who download the new version of the app will be able to access wait-time management, which will show lines at restrooms and concession stands near the fan's entered section number, and concession pickup ordering. The Sabres have partnered with concessionaire Delaware North to provide in-app ordering, which will start with three pickup points on the 100 level and one on the 300 level.
Two key areas of the game experience that will be augmented this year will be giveaway nights, which will take place on eight games to be announced, the return of the supersized fan flag moving through the seating area and more organ music as a focal point during stoppages.
"The fans were very vocal in that regard to those areas," Gilbert said.
The Sabres will also have a new Family Zone in the 100 level featuring interactive games and activities and will unveil a "One Buffalo Street Team" to engage with fans throughout the game.
In other offerings:
-- The Sabres will offer $199 family packs (four tickets, hot dogs, sodas and popcorns) for 10 games and Kids Games tickets for five games. Up to four $15 Kids tickets can be purchased with a full-price 300 Level II seat. Those games will be announced in early September.
-- Tickets to the three home preseason games go on sale Aug. 30. They are Sept. 18 vs. Carolina, Sept. 23 against Toronto and Sept. 29 against the New York Islanders.
-- Sept. 11-15 will be Sneak Peak Week for season-ticket holders, who will have an exclusive presale window for individual game tickets.
-- Sept. 14-15 will be the individual game presale window for My One Buffalo Members, Sabres Insiders, and Bills season-ticket holders.
"We haven't made the playoffs and fans want us in the playoffs," Gilbert said. "We want to be there too. It's like anything else: Once we start winning, the hot dogs taste better, the fan experience is better. Everything is better when you win. We need to do more winning and we know that."