Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'This has engulfed everybody'

All seats in arena's priciest section have already been snapped up

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Get your fingers limbered up and have your mouse hand ready, sports fans, as the online dash for the last available season tickets for Winnipeg's new National Hockey League franchise won't last long.

It's possible the remaining seats will be gobbled up in mere minutes after the window opens at noon Saturday for sale to the general public.

Season-ticket commitments from Manitoba Moose season-ticket and mini-pack holders, along with corporate partners -- who had first dibs in an exclusive three-day pre-sale that ended Friday night -- reached 7,158 Friday afternoon.

So it turns out True North Sports and Entertainment's Drive to 13,000 campaign might have been better dubbed an all out pedal-to-the-metal sprint.

"The term I would use to describe our reaction is 'pleasantly surprised,' " said True North spokesman Scott Brown. "Some of us thought originally this was going to take just seven to 10 days. Then, as we saw the initial hype and hysteria, we thought it might take just the weekend. And now as we get closer, we realize it'll be something if it lasts the weekend. "I don't know if we're jumping up and down just yet... we don't want to get over-confident, but we're really hopeful the window-opening (Saturday) is going to be short. It really is trending that way. I was talking to (former Manitoba Moose captain) Mike Keane and I said, 'Keaner, I knew this was going to be big, but this is waaay bigger than I thought it was going to be.'

"This has engulfed everybody."

Tickets are available exclusively on the website www.driveto13.com and fans were being asked to make three, four or five-year commitments by putting down deposits of $500 to $1,000. True North implemented the drive to provide the organization with a degree of financial certainty and as evidence of the market strength when the NHL's board of governors gather to approve the sale of the team from the Atlanta Spirit group to True North later this month.

The season-ticket commitments will be capped at 13,000, but with an additional 1,000 seats included in the corporate luxury boxes -- which are also selling briskly -- there will be fewer than 1,000 available for general sale. The NHL also requires a few hundred seats be set aside for players and their families, as well as NHL executives.

All the seats available in the P1 category -- the MTS Centre's priciest sections, situated in the lower bowl between the blue lines -- are already sold out.

Longtime Moose season-ticket holder Rob Meakin -- he's been supporting the club since its inception -- committed to four P1 season tickets on Wednesday. And his support of pro hockey in Winnipeg goes back even further than that.

"Actually, my daughter, Breanne, was born in 1990 on the evening of Game 6 in the playoff series with the (Edmonton) Oilers," said Meakin, the curler and coach who is a member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

"We were at the game and Nadine, my wife, and I had tickets in the upper deck. We think walking up and down in the upper deck induced the labour. We actually stayed for the whole game and then left. A couple hours later, it was time.

"I enjoyed the AHL, watching the players develop and seeing guys like (Ryan) Kesler and (Alexandre) Burrows and all these players go to the NHL was amazing. It was good, quality hockey. But now we're back in the NHL and it's going to be very, very exciting to see all the superstars come through our city. This whole city is buzzing."

The limited leftover supply of remaining tickets will almost certainly lead to huge prices on the secondary market, through ticket brokers such as StubHub or sites such as eBay and Kijiji.

Chris Matcovich -- head of business development at TiqIQ, a secondary-market ticket aggregator based in New York -- and his staff crunched some numbers and determined the average cost of hockey tickets in Winnipeg on the secondary market could reach as high as $271.09, with an average of $207.30. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs ($219.44), Montreal Canadiens ($248.89) and Vancouver Canucks ($279.88) have higher average secondary-market prices.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2011 A3

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