October 24, 2011
The biggest hullabaloo over 2012 NHL Winter Classic tickets is that the general public can't acquire them outside of the secondary market.
The Philadelphia Flyers were allocated 19,000 tickets by the NHL for the Jan. 2 game at Citizens Bank Park, and have said from the start they don't anticipate a public sale. The New York Rangers will have fewer tickets available and, as of last week, haven't announced how they'll be allocated (although a lottery for season-ticket holders seems likely).
While you never like to see rank-and-file fans closed out of an event — visions of beer sponsors mingling with the Black-Eyed Peas at the Super Bowl are immediately conjured — giving dibs to season-ticket holders is understandable and laudable. You have die-hards dropping thousands of dollars every year for a marathon regular season and then the postseason. You have partial-plan holders dropping significant cash too; even the ones who signed up for this season just to get have the chance to freeze their asses off on Jan. 2 are making an investment to do so.
(Or, in both cases, they've earned the chance to flip those Winter Classic tickets for a significant profit; why should the Flyers only benefit from the free market, amiright?)
Where the Flyers and the NHL are royally screwing these fans: Making it mandatory to purchase additional Classic-related tickets for the "right" to attend the Classic itself.
Get used to it, because this is how it's going to be for the outdoor hockey games, going forward.
The NHL Winter Classic in Philly is Jan. 2, 2012. On Dec. 31, the Flyers and Rangers will play in an alumni game at the Park, a.k.a. Eric Lindros Appreciation And/Or Scorn Day. On Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. and under the lights, the Adirondack Phantoms will host the Hershey Bears in an AHL Outdoor Classic at the Park.
Flyers season-ticket holders have been discovering for the last month that these events are part of the total package — they can't purchase a Winter Classic ticket without purchasing tickets to the other two events.
John Bakley, 41, a Mantua Township resident who works as a teacher's assistant at Gloucester County College, is among the many season-ticket holders upset with the handling fees for his tickets. He purchased two tickets that were just below the mid-level price for the Winter Classic at $149 each. The fees for the tickets totaled $67.50, he said. Bakley was also forced to buy two tickets to the alumni game (he paid $72 each, plus fees that totaled $32) and two tickets to the Adirondack Phantoms-Hershey Bears AHL game ($33 each, plus fees that totaled $6).
All told, Bakley paid $508 for two tickets to each of the three games. He said he would not have purchased the tickets to the Dec. 31 alumni game or Jan. 6 AHL game if it wasn't mandatory. His fees for the tickets: $105.50.
"It's not criminal, but it should be," Bakley said. "You can't find anyone who can justify it - short of having Reggie Leach personally bring me the tickets."
Again, it's not necessarily the face value of the alumni game and AHL game tickets — the best available ticket for the Adirondack game is currently $40. It's the price of those tickets plus the fees plus the money already being laid out for an inflated-priced regular-season game being played in a baseball stadium.
The Winter Classic has been steadily building towards this system.
In 2010 at Fenway Park, there was a Legends Classic charity game that featured Boston Bruins players. It was popular, as was the "Frozen Fenway" NCAA game between Boston College and Boston University (38,472 fans, pushing that attendance ahead of the Winter Classic's that year). Neither game was a mandatory purchase when season-ticket holders snagged Boston/Philly Classic tickets.
In 2011, the NHL limited tickets to the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals alumni game to 10,000, which was a huge mistake — demand quickly trounced supply, and the $25 chance to see Mario skate again in Heinz Field sold out in 10 minutes. There was also an AHL/NCAA doubleheader at CONSOL Energy Center, with one ticket getting you both games. Again, this was not a mandatory purchase for those season-ticket holders buying Penguins/Capitals tickets.
Later in 2011, at the Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, there were three other events held in conjunction with the Calgary Flames' game against the Montreal Canadiens, all held in a four-day span: the Abbotsford Heat against the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL at the Saddledome; the Flames/Habs alumni game at McMahon; and the WHL Outdoors game between Calgary and Regina the next day.
It was at the Heritage Classic that we started to see ticket packages: A $25 ticket package included a ticket to the outdoor alumni game and a choice of either a ticket to the AHL game or a ticket to the outdoor WHL game. But again, none of these games were a mandatory purchase with the Heritage Classic ticket.
For 2012, it appears everything is bundled for season-ticket holders. Which sucks. It sucks when season-ticket holders are forced to purchase preseason games for the "privilege" of having the same seat for 41 regular-season games. It sucks when cable companies demand we pay for channels we don't want to watch instead of offering ala carte options. (Then again, Comcast does own the Flyers.) And it sucks that Flyers fans have to buy the direct-to-DVD prequel and sequel when all they care about it the blockbuster.
But really, if you're already plopping down upwards of $300 for Winter Classic tickets, is the ~$100 (at most) on alumni game tickets and the $53 (at most) on Phantoms game tickets really going to deter you? Maybe in some very limited cases, yes. Not enough to make a real difference.
Instead, the probable impact of this is really quite simple: Season ticket holders will be forced to buy tickets to all three events, thus ensuring that all three events will be sold out -- $$$$$$ for everybody. Then, a limited number of tickets will be available to the general public for the Phantoms game and the alumni game, and many people will be left in the cold.
The promise that Winter Classic week will be a time where "everybody in the marketplace will have an opportunity to see a game outdoors?" Yeah, maybe a high school game. Or a non-Division 1 college game. That's about it.
His point, and it's a good one: Mandating that season-ticket holders buy tickets to the alumni game and the AHL game takes even more tickets away from the general public.
Which brings us back to the original hullabaloo: The average fan is being squeezed out of the outdoor hockey gimmick, and the die-hard fan is having to pay out the ass for games he or she doesn't care about just to attend the Classic.
We know that Bridgestone is the title sponsor for the Classic, but is it too late to switch to Diebold, considering this game is just one giant ATM machine for the NHL and the teams competing in it?
Hell, even the documentary series leading up to the game is on pay cable (not that we're [expletive] complaining about [expletive]).
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