The KHL has become a driver of growth in ticket sales for matches of leading sports leagues

The KHL has become a driver of growth in ticket sales for matches of leading sports leagues


In the main domestic team sports, against the backdrop of the ongoing regime of almost complete international isolation, a rather sharp increase in spectator interest was recorded. Yandex Poster noted an almost threefold increase in the number of tickets sold from July 2023 to February 2024 for matches of the country’s most notable leagues: the Russian Premier League football, VTB United League basketball, and the Continental Hockey League. It was the latter, in which the just-ended regular season turned out to be surprisingly intriguing and spectacular, that acted as the main driver of the jump, despite the fact that its benefits from isolation are extremely doubtful.

The sharp increase in demand for “live” viewing of sporting events in Russia is stated in the Yandex Afisha report obtained by Kommersant. It covers data from July 2023 to February 2024 inclusive. Yandex Afisha considers this time period to be the first half of a conditional “single” sports season, starting and ending in mid-summer. According to the service, during this period, compared to the same period in the previous season, ticket sales for matches of the country’s “main sports leagues” almost tripled – by 175%, albeit with a slight decrease in the cost of the average bill – from 1,556 rubles. in February 2023 to 1378 rubles. in February 2024. The main leagues mean three: the football Russian Premier League (RPL), the basketball VTB United League and the Continental Hockey League (KHL).

This is a remarkable event. Thanks to the breakthrough, sports entered the top 5 most attractive genres in the “entertainment” section on Yandex Poster, displacing exhibitions from it. Sports accounted for 3.2% of all tickets sold by the service in the above period (the classification is led by concerts (30%), cinemas (27%), theater (22%) and stand-up concerts (5.9%)).

One of the probable reasons for the jump is not difficult to identify. The growth occurred against the background of the prolongation of the international isolation regime in relation to a number of segments of the domestic sports industry, introduced immediately after the start of a special military operation in Ukraine. In March last year, after the appearance of new recommendations from the International Olympic Committee, which called on sports federations to ensure the admission of Russian athletes to top competitions in a neutral status, it was significantly softened in relation to many sports. But the mitigation did not affect gaming. Football, basketball, and hockey still remain outside of international competitions, which, perhaps, has a positive effect on the demand for domestic competitions.

But there is one interesting nuance. Football and basketball were supposed to receive the greatest “benefit” from isolation. The fact is that the leading clubs of the RPL and VTB United League until 2022, in parallel with their championships, took part in European cups, which were very popular. Yandex Poster noted that these leagues have also become more in demand, without, however, providing specific figures. However, the trend is not a secret anyway, although if measured by the actual number of spectators in the stands, it is not so striking. Having fallen into the abyss at the beginning of the decade due to anti-coronavirus restrictions, and then, after the introduction of Fan ID, and due to mass boycotts by fans, the average attendance at RPL matches this season has not risen that much compared to the previous season – from 9. 4 thousand people to 10.7 thousand.

In the VTB United League, which publishes similar statistics less frequently, the trend was more obvious. Its general director, Ilona Korstin, told Kommersant about close to double growth in the previous season. This year, according to preliminary estimates, attendance should increase by approximately another 20%. But the absolute numbers in this case are quite modest. The average attendance at elite basketball matches in the country is about 3 thousand spectators.

Yandex Poster states that “hockey has become the main growth driver for sports.” And this despite the fact that the benefit of the KHL from international isolation is questionable due to the lack of a system for playing European Cups.

Actually, this league itself reported a pleasant trend shortly after the end of the regular season, which ended on Monday. The championship set a record for average attendance – 6622 spectators (the previous one, four years ago, that is, from the pre-Covid era, was 6492). And the increase compared to last year’s figures (5,438 spectators) turned out to be almost 20 percent. All clubs in the KHL, consisting of 23 teams, experienced this effect, with rare exceptions.

The Yandex Posters report clarifies that “games of the KHL championship are traditionally in great demand in the regions, and this year the occupancy of hockey arenas has increased significantly in Moscow,” and also that “during the season, several club attendance records were set in the regular championships ” First of all, this refers to the match on February 11 in St. Petersburg between SKA and Sochi at the newly opened SKA Arena, which is huge by Russian standards. It drew 21,481 fans, one of the highest crowds in indoor hockey history.

The authors of the study do not even mention isolation, and Enrico Mazavrishvili, director of content at Yandex Afisha, emphasized that the current season in the KHL turned out to be “special.” The past regular season can truly be called extraordinary – primarily due to increased competition (the fight for leadership in both conferences continued until the final days of the tournament, there were several sensational rises of teams that previously had the status of middle peasants, and failures of favorites like CSKA) and high performance ( On average, 5.3 goals were scored per game, seven hockey players reached the landmark scorer milestone for the KHL of 60 points, and Nikita Gusev from Dynamo Moscow broke Sergei Mozyakin’s seven-year-old record with 89). Enrico Mazavrishvili attributes the increase in demand for tickets to league matches to these factors, adding that “sports and ice shows are becoming increasingly popular entertainment in Russia”: “Even last year in winter, shows from figure skating stars and skating rinks rose to the top of popular events , and now hockey has joined them.”

Commenting on the report data to Kommersant, Sergei Dobrokhvalov, vice-president of the KHL, noted that “clubs and the league have been systematically working for several years to increase their commercial potential and income growth,” and as of this season, “a new development strategy has been adopted, in which One of the key areas is working with the audience.” Mr. Dobrokhvalov emphasized that two years ago, by decision of the KHL Board of Directors, clubs had “the responsibility to develop and implement medium-term commercial strategies and individual programs to attract the 0–17 generation”: “For example, together with the Ministry of Education of Russia and clubs in secondary schools In the cities of the KHL presence, the project “Hockey Lesson with the KHL” was launched, in which more than 46 thousand children took part. “The ABCs of Hockey” and the cartoon “Universe of Hockey” were specially released for them. The league created a mascot for children – the snowman Krut, launched a children’s website, and in the first days of the playoffs (it starts on Thursday.— “Kommersant”) at the matches of three clubs – Spartak, Avtomobilist and Dynamo Moscow – the “My first play-off match” promotion will be held, within which young fans will be able to receive special welcome packages from the league and clubs. We are also preparing to publish a book for young readers and a special children’s broadcast of a hockey match.”

According to Sergei Dobrokhvalov, the record for average KHL attendance, as well as the fact that in this regular championship the total attendance for the fourth time exceeded 5 million fans, suggests that “hockey survived the difficult covid years, when, due to restrictions, almost everything matches could not take place in front of full stands”: “In recent years, new palaces have been introduced in Omsk, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg, which have become new centers of attraction in their cities. Their appearance became an equally important factor in the growth of attendance and interest in hockey.”

In addition, Mr. Dobrokhvalov recalled that since the current season, Yandex has become a partner of the KHL, which allows it and the clubs to “increase sales of electronic tickets for matches.” One example of the effectiveness of cooperation is the December “Fonbet” KHL All-Star Game at the SKA Arena, which was attended by more than 40 thousand spectators over two days. Sergei Dobrokhvalov indicated that “all the league’s partners are implementing various programs to work with fans.”

Alexey Dospehov


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