BOSTON -- Hockey fans tend to look at the NHL as a bumbling League unable to get out of its own way. But they have to give Gary Bettman and Co. credit where it's due: They've turned one regular-season game into a license to print money.
In talking to a number of fans that will be attending the 2010 Winter Classic on Friday at Fenway Park, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: There is nothing about the Winter Classic that isn't expensive.
On the one hand, it's easy to understand why fans would be happily fork over double, triple, even quadruple what they would be only slightly willing to pay for any other Boston Bruins/Philadelphia Flyers regular-season tilt.
"My brother and I got the tickets as a holiday/birthday gift for each other and didn't want to miss the ‘once in a lifetime' opportunity," says Ali Ghorashi, a Bruins fan from north of Boston. "As soon as it was announced the game was being played in Fenway we decided, no matter the (reasonable) cost, we were going."
You'll notice he put "reasonable." Given that he said that, what price would you think qualifies?
Something in the $150 range? Maybe $200? No, he and his brother paid $430 apiece, just over twice face value, at stubhub.com. Adam Pienkos, who emailed me his story, paid $450 a seat for his pair, also from Stubhub, but admitted that, "it's ridiculously overpriced."
Now granted, these two instances were, by far, the most money spent of anyone I talked to; but when anyone is spending $860 for two tickets to one regular-season game -- between teams that are (as of Monday afternoon) 5th and 11th in their conference -- then the market for tickets is, to quote Bettman, "bizonkers."
That's where the NHL's marketing machine has worked so efficiently. While most people would balk at paying over $400, it appears most had no problem coughing up anywhere from $225 to $350 per seats. This is an event that anyone even remotely interested in hockey views as one they cannot afford to miss.
The phrase "once in a lifetime" was used in literally every conversation I had.
"After all the fanfare I couldn't not go," says Cornelius Hardenbergh, he of the Hockey Blog Adventure and a Bruins season ticket holder who paid around $240 for each of his two seats behind home plate.
Remember the apparent debate over whether to hold the game at a relatively tiny venue like Fenway Park, by far the smallest venue yet for an outdoor game, versus the considerably larger Gillette Stadium in Foxboro?
Turns out that the game being played at Fenway is part of the reason fans are falling all over themselves to pay big money to attend.
"I definitely wouldn't pay as much for a game [anywhere else]," says Steve Pavao who, along with two buddies, paid $342 apiece for their three seats together down by third base. "I feel as if there's some sort of aura around the whole spectacle of it all."
The ticket resellers know they can exploit that. Head on over to eBay and type in "Winter Classic tickets" then sort lowest to highest, and the first seats you'll find are single tickets and already well over $200. Even by the end of the first page, are going for about $350 each. The next page features a number of lots that value tickets at about $500 each or more.
Similarly, Ace Ticket, the official ticket sponsor of the Boston Bruins, will gladly sell you a standing-room ticket for $259, while bleacher seats come in the $309-349 range and the remaining mixture of loge, field box and roof box seats reach as high as $750 per.
But if those tickets weren't as insanely-priced as you'd have liked, Craigslist is happy to oblige you. One seller is asking for $375 per seat on tickets with a face value of $90. Another person, whose seats seem to be in the $150-each range, is asking for, get this, $1,400 for the pair. Really. Most other offers are a mishmash of prices, all within the comparable range discussed above, but many of the listings with "Winter Classic" in the title are people almost literally begging to go, and offering to pay comparatively little to what's being asked everywhere else.
Interestingly, it appears there isn't much of a resale market for individual people with tickets who aren't looking to exploit anyone, though a family friend turned down $1,800 for his pair of seats. Really. But that's how it goes. All of the ticketholders that I talked to would have been unwilling to part with their seats even if anyone did offer money for them.
Margaret Coit, who helped organize the NHL Winter Classic Tweetup that will be going on all day Friday (with free stuff for fans!) and lucked into a ticket through a friend's work, put it the whole thing in perspective.
"The overlap between Bruins fans and Red Sox fans is quite substantial, and this event exploits that beautifully," she said. "Bostonians love their sports teams, probably to a clinically unhealthy level, grow up watching them, living and dying with each win and loss, and given an opportunity will spend money to see them, and this opportunity means visiting our beloved Fenway and seeing a Bruins game. And the NHL wants money. Win-win."
Ryan Lambert is covering the Winter Classic for Puck Daddy, and publishes hockey awesomeness pretty much every day over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.