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Wake up and smell the season tickets

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Like many of you, I was shut out in my bid for season tickets to the AYUHT (pronounced Ay-Yoot, it means As Yet Unnamed Hockey Team). It wasn't a surprise -- I had previously predicted that pent up demand from Winnipeg hockey fans would snap up the tickets in no time. I mean, did you see the way people fought with each other to grab those free hockey sticks Canadian Tire was giving away last week? We've collectively lost our nut. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But now, we're going to have to endure days, perhaps even weeks of whining from those of us who didn't get tickets to see the AYUHTs play. Upset about the way True North handled the pre-sale, or upset about the fact the arena is so tiny to begin with. Or, as is most likely, upset that brokers and scalpers, some thousands of kilometres away, grabbed some of the seats.

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Welcome to major league professional sports. As those of us who have lived in other so-called major league cities can attest, scalpers and pro sports go hand in hand. Particularly in cities where demand for a particular sport is high, competition for season ticket contracts is fierce. In Toronto, my hometown, scalpers have dominated season ticket contracts for years.

I can remember going down to old, departed Maple Leaf Gardens as a 13-year-old and naively attempting to buy tickets. It was Saturday morning and I lined up with a dozen others in the hopes of snagging a single. They had to have one or two available?

When the ticket window finally opened, I watched as scalpers turned in their season ticket cards (in the old days, you got your tickets in bunches, and presented a card that the ticket clerk punched and then handed over the tickets) and walked away with fists-full of reds and blues and greens. When I got to the window and asked if there was anything left for non-scalpers, the woman shook her head with an expression that was a combination of anger and pity.

At 3 PM, those same scalpers lined up at the top of the stairs that brought fans up from the Subway on Carlton Street, yelling at the top of their lungs: "Who needs a ticket? Who needs a pair?" Curses. The only thing that saved the morning was bumping into a towering Peter Mahovlich (the Detroit Red Wings were in town) wearing a full-length mink coat. It's never a bad experience if you have a good story to tell.

Even now, in those rare instances when I travel to Toronto during hockey season and want to go see a game, I am forced to go through on-line ticket brokers. Some offer tickets at only modest mark up, and most offer secure transactions and guarantee you get the tickets you paid for. I have always thought that was a fair trade; I didn't have to carry the cost of an entire contract, got to pick the game I wanted, and paid a premium for the convenience. No buyer's remorse.

There is another side to the scalper equation that isn't being discussed right now. In cities where most if not all of the tickets are held by season ticket contracts, it is often possible to get tickets below face value when the teams are doing poorly. The Minnesota Vikings love to celebrate their sell-out record, but NFL fans from Winnipeg can tell you that you can buy a ticket in the lower bowl of the horrendous Humpty Dumpty Dome for less than face value when the Vikes are having a bad season. Long-faced season ticket holders congregate outside the Dome and literally beg people to take the tickets off their hands. That is the price season ticket holders face for having more tickets than they can use, at a time when there's no demand in the broader community.

For those who got shut out of the AYUHT lottery like me, stay positive. There are a lot of people out there with tickets who are going to find out that the reality of 45 home games is a lot different than the fantasy of owning the tickets. It's not a question of whether you have your own season tickets, but knowing someone who does.

Me? I'm on my way tonight to cut the lawn of a friend of mine who scored four tickets on the weekend. That will be me in a Vancouver Canucks jersey (his favorite team) pushing the mower with a sign on my back: "Will work for tickets."

Wish me luck.

-- Dan Lett

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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