Last month, an hour after somebody paid a record price of US$468,000 for a ticket stub from basketball legend Michael Jordan’s first regular-season game with the Chicago Bulls, that benchmark was broken when a person at the same sports-memorabilia auction successfully bid US$480,000 for a ticket stub from baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson’s big-league debut with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers.

Last month, an hour after somebody paid a record price of US$468,000 for a ticket stub from basketball legend Michael Jordan’s first regular-season game with the Chicago Bulls, that benchmark was broken when a person at the same sports-memorabilia auction successfully bid US$480,000 for a ticket stub from baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson’s big-league debut with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers.

End of an era

Rob Ferrand, a Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder since 2011, remembers when his ticket package for the strike-shortened 2013 season arrived by courier.

Rob Ferrand, a Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder since 2011, remembers when his ticket package for the strike-shortened 2013 season arrived by courier.

After learning the team was replacing individual, brightly-coloured tickets with a season-ticket “card,” which was described as a new “digital ticketing platform,” he looked at his phone and thought, OK, that sounds handy.

A few seconds later however, Ferrand was on the horn with his ticket rep, asking hey, what about his “real” tickets?

“As somebody who always hung onto my stubs as a keepsake, I was like, now what? Was this the end of an era?” he says.

Earlier this year Ferrand and his son Mathieu attended a Western Hockey League game in Regina featuring the hometown Pats. When they returned home, he downloaded the image of the tickets from his phone, and printed them off, for Mathieu to have a memento of their trip.

“It’s definitely not the same as a paper ticket with a team crest on it — this was just a set of barcodes — but it’s something, right?”

— David Sanderson

While a cool half-mil might seem like an exorbitant price to pay for a decades-old piece of paper, it’s probably a pretty safe investment. A recent, online article titled "Ticket Stubs: the Hobby’s Hottest Collectible" stated that stubs from games gone by have steadily risen in value since e-tickets with QR codes began supplanting actual, physical ducats about 10 years ago. In the last six months alone, stubs from "jewel" events such as the 1992 summer Olympic Men’s Basketball gold medal match have commanded as much as 40 times more than the previous year, when they’ve hit the market.

That brings us to Rob Ferrand, a Winnipegger who has kept the ticket stub from every single Winnipeg Jets game he’s attended since 1979, the year the first iteration of the team entered the National Hockey League.

Check that; almost every stub.

Ferrand, 53, was a Grade 6 student at Margaret Park School during the Jets’ inaugural NHL season. He was also one of the school’s safety patrols and as a thank you for their efforts, he and his fellow patrols were treated to a Jets game versus the Edmonton Oilers in December 1979. It wasn’t until fairly recently, however, that he acquired a ticket stub from that very tilt.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>At first, Rob Ferrand collected stubs from the games he went to, then as the collection grew he has expanded it to all the games they have played from 1972, when they joined the WHA, to 1996, when they left for Arizona. </p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

At first, Rob Ferrand collected stubs from the games he went to, then as the collection grew he has expanded it to all the games they have played from 1972, when they joined the WHA, to 1996, when they left for Arizona.

"My guess is, as we were going through the gates at the old arena, a teacher was handing the tickets to an usher, one by one, so I probably never had the actual ticket in my possession," Ferrand says, seated in the Cityplace food court across the street from the current Jets’ downtown digs. "I was at a sports cards and memorabilia sale about six months ago and a guy there was selling old Jets ticket stubs, including one from that game. So of course, I added it to the pile."

Ferrand, a married father of one, never set out to be an ephemerist, the term given to those who amass paper-based products, be it ticket stubs, greeting cards, personal letters… there’s even a person in Germany who has what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of table napkins, 125,00 and counting. Rather, it simply became commonplace for him to empty his pockets when he arrived home from a sporting event or concert and toss the stub from it into a shoebox.

That continued for close to 40 years, right up until COVID struck in the spring of 2020. Ferrand, a territory manager for a company that produces yearbooks and class rings, suddenly found himself working from home more often. One afternoon, with a bit of time on his hands, he took a break from what he was doing and pulled out his box of stubs.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>Rob acquired the ticket stubs from his first NHL game on Dec. 7, 1979, from another collector. When he went to this game it was with a group of crossing guards and he didn’t get an individual ticket for that game. </p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Rob acquired the ticket stubs from his first NHL game on Dec. 7, 1979, from another collector. When he went to this game it was with a group of crossing guards and he didn’t get an individual ticket for that game.

He had more than he would have guessed, he remembers thinking, at which point a lightbulb went on in his head: wouldn’t it be something to have a ticket stub from every game the Jets hosted between 1972 — the year they began play in the World Hockey Association — and 1996, when the team left the city for the sunny climes of Arizona?

"At first I wondered if it would count to have a ticket from a game I didn’t attend. Since I was the one making up the rules, I figured why not? Especially if it was a milestone game like the one when (Teemu) Selanne broke (Mike) Bossy’s record for goals by a rookie (March 2, 1992) or the night the Jets beat the Colorado Rockies to end their 30-game winless streak (Dec. 23, 1980), another NHL record," he says.

To kick things off, Ferrand, who enlisted his 17-year-old son Mathieu to give him a hand, began putting his own stubs in chronological order, a task that proved more difficult than one might imagine. Back in the day, arena attendants were required to rip tickets in half upon entry, which meant the dates on some of his stubs are obscured, if not missing altogether.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p>A ticket from 1984.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A ticket from 1984.

Next, he went online to figure out which home games he didn’t have a stub from. That proved relatively simple, thanks to authoritative websites such as hockeydb.com. Now that he had a hit list, he began asking friends and co-workers if by chance they had any old stubs sitting in a junk drawer at home. He also joined a Facebook group called Winnipeg Jets Collectors and after posting a stubs-wanted message, he lucked into even more specimens.

"This really is the thrill of the hunt, because who knows if a stub from a certain game even exists any longer? Let’s say 10,000 people went to a Jets-Hartford game in the dead of winter in 1982. How many of those 10,000 tossed their stub out the second they got to their seat, how many threw it away when they got home and how many spilled beer on it, or left it in the pocket of a pair of pants that got tossed in the wash?

"A few might have been like me, and purposely kept it," he says. "But how many of those people still have it today?"

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p>A ticket from the 1992-1993 season.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A ticket from the 1992-1993 season.

Russ Havens is the person behind ticketstubcollection.com, an online museum containing close to 30,000 images of ticket stubs, sorted into a variety of categories including year, venue, league and team. (Enter Winnipeg Jets in the search engine and dozens of Jets stubs pop up, including one from a 1972 affair between the WHA Jets and the short-lived Ottawa Nationals, a squad that lasted one season in the nation’s capital, before moving to Toronto and being reborn as the Toros the following year.)

Like Ferrand, Havens, who lives in San Diego, began saving his stubs as a kid. He grew up about 50 kilometres from Dodger Stadium and distinctly remembers tacking stubs from baseball games he attended to a bulletin board in his bedroom, where he would stare at them from time to time and relive the action in his head.

"I started the website 12 years ago with about 300 images of stubs from my personal collection, mostly as a way to satisfy my indescribable OCD," Havens says with a laugh, when reached by phone in California.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p>This is a ticket stub from the last regular season game for the original Jets when they played the Los Angeles Kings on April 12, 1996.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

This is a ticket stub from the last regular season game for the original Jets when they played the Los Angeles Kings on April 12, 1996.

Things rapidly took off from there, to the degree fellow collectors are presently able to buy, sell and trade through the website. Or, if they just want to display a stub they think others might get a kick out of, they can do that, too, he says.

Owing to the sheer number of options available to them, Havens says almost every ticket stub collector he’s familiar with adopts the same approach as Ferrand, by focusing their efforts on a particular team, player or era. Some, for example, collect stubs only from games Mario Lemieux scored a goal in, while others go after tickets from World Series or NBA championship games exclusively.

Was Havens surprised to hear a stub from Jackie Robinson’s debut sold for as much as it did? Not in the least.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Ferrand with the ticket stubs he has collected since he was a kid.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ferrand with the ticket stubs he has collected since he was a kid.

"The same as coins and stamps, stubs can be graded for condition and rarity, which is how prices like that are arrived at," he says. "I have a stub from the game at the (Los Angeles) Forum when Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd goal, breaking Gordie Howe’s record. It’s worth a fair bit, but not as much as a stub from (Gretzky’s) first game in the NHL, against the Blackhawks. One of those sold for $120,000, not too long ago."

Back at Cityplace, Ferrand shrugs his shoulders when asked what he’s going to do to celebrate, if and when he reaches his lofty goal. (Judging from the blank spaces in a pair of photo album-type tomes he stores his treasures in, he’s about halfway there.)

"That’s the thing about collecting, there’s always something else. So yeah, I might sit back for a minute and savour my accomplishment but then it’ll be a case of ‘now what?’"

Hey, there are always Jets road games, we suggest.

"Ha, don’t give me any stupid ideas," he says with a wink, polishing off a last drop of coffee.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.