Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NHL tickets as hot as hoped

Sales brisk on opening day as Moose fans get first dibs

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Winnipeg hockey fans are putting their money where their mania is.

In just 31/2 hours Wednesday, 1,870 season tickets to see NHL hockey during the 2011-12 campaign were scooped up in the first wave of pre-sales, according to the lone update at 4:30 p.m. Manitoba Moose season-ticket and mini-pack holders as well as corporate advertising partners have a three-day window in which to buy ahead of the general public.

Scott Brown, director of corporate communications and hockey operations at True North Sports & Entertainment, described the activity as "brisk."

"This was a good start. We're pleased," he said.

The aforementioned groups will have first dibs through to Friday evening at 10 p.m. Fourteen hours later, the general public will be able to scratch their 15-year itch. Tickets can only be ordered online at www.driveto13.com

Brown said if all of the people who are eligible to purchase tickets during the first three days do so, less than 5,000 will be left by the weekend.

True North unveiled the ticket campaign at a press conference on Tuesday, moments after announcing it had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and would move them to Winnipeg.

The goal is to hit 13,000 season tickets sold prior to the NHL's board of governors meeting on June 21 to demonstrate Winnipeggers can walk the walk after talking the talk since 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets flew south to Phoenix.

This isn't your father's season-ticket campaign, however. Hockey fans are being asked to put down a full-season deposit of between $500 and $1,000 depending on which of the seven price points is selected. No fair-weather fans need apply, either, as ticket-holders will lock in their seats for three to five years.

Using some back-of-the-napkin math and assuming the 13,000 target is met at an average deposit of $750, approximately $9.75 million will appear in True North's bank account.

The deposits will be refunded if ticket-holders opt not to renew their seats at the end of the term. If they decide to keep them for another multi-year term, the deposit will be rolled over for them.

This ticket strategy essentially gives what amounts to an interest-free loan for True North, although Brown said that certainly wasn't the intent.

"The rationale is so we ensure people stay committed to the season-ticket campaign to ensure the long-term viability of the franchise," he said.

John McCallum, an economics professor at the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, said taking deposits, whether in the form of a licence or an initiation fee, is typical in professional sports.

"I find the idea of taking a deposit to be a reasonable thing," he said. "It will give them some working capital for a period of time in which they're a start-up in the NHL. They'll have a large number of expenses, and at the beginning, their outflows will be ahead of their inflows."

If the 13,000th season ticket is sold, the online system won't accept any more, Brown said. That will leave less than 1,000 tickets available on a game-by-game basis. There are also about 1,000 seats in the 56 suites at the MTS Centre.

If the one-time hit is too rich for some fans, there are payment plans available, similar to if you were buying a vehicle. The payments will be pro-rated over eight or nine months during the first year and on the 15th of every month in subsequent years. A two per cent "convenience" fee will be applied and administered by a third-party financial institution.

But individual hockey fans aren't the only ones being asked to step up for NHL hockey. More than 100 people, representing dozens of local and national corporations, were at the MTS Centre Wednesday to hear the suite pitch.

The 56 suites in the rink for next hockey season will reportedly range in price from $105,000 to $197,000, more than double the rates for the Manitoba Moose.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

 

 HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY? Moose fans' rights to seats sought for big bucks

THE sporting equivalent of Beatlemania may be taking off in Winnipeg.

Petrified that they're not going to be able to get in on the season-ticket derby for this year's NHL season, some Winnipeggers have begun offering online incentives to Manitoba Moose season-ticket and mini-pack holders.

One man is offering $8,000, or $2,000 per seat, for the rights to four P1-level tickets.

"If you are a Moose season-ticket holder, with premium seats, and want to sell your pre-sale password and rights, call me ASAP!!!" said the offer, which was posted on kijiji.com.

When reached by phone, the man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he took such a drastic step because lower-bowl seats will be "impossible" to get unless you're a Moose season-ticket holder.

"I don't think that's right. Had Winnipeggers been told they'd have priority seating if we ever got the NHL back, I'd have been a Moose season-ticket holder for 10 years," he said.

The man first's offer of $5,000 earlier in the day generated no leads so after seeing another one for $6,000, he upped it by $3,000 later in the day.

"It's a competition right now apparently," he said.

The man said he even contacted True North Sports & Entertainment about buying a luxury suite with some business associates but was told he'd be too far down the waiting list to get in.

By Wednesday evening, more than 100 people had read the ad, and the man had received several phone calls, at least one of which he considered serious.

"It will all be done legally. I've spoken with my lawyer already. One person has an activation code ready to go, and once he's made his final decision, we'll put it in the hands of the lawyer," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2011 A3

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