Sabres 1-6, and my thoughts turn to money

October 18, 2017 - 10:56 am
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I'm here to announce that the Buffalo Sabres will be raising ticket prices for the 2018-19 season.

The official announcement will be in the spring, when other teams are in the playoffs. And it'll be on a Friday, when their office is open but your thoughts are probably drifting to the upcoming weekend.

The Sabres lost Tuesday night in Vegas to fall to 1-4-2 -- 1-6 if you, like me, prefer to use common sense. Incredibly, they have not taken the ice with a winning record since their fourth game of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Lindy Ruff was their coach, Ryan Miller was their goalie, Jack Eichel was in high school. This was 380 games ago, and barring an imminent hot streak we'll see that number climb into the 400s. Their last playoff appearance was in 2011, their last series win in 2007. That's like five uniforms ago. They haven't won even one regular-season game as a road favorite in more than four years. (They play 82 games a year.)

Terry Pegula bought the team in February 2011, and (in)famously said if he were looking to make a profit he'd instead go build another gas well. Tickets have gone up every year since and the team hasn't once been good. Out of the 2012-13 lockout the Pittsburgh Penguins, now five-time Stanley Cup winners, offered their fans free concessions for four games. The Sabres charged $4.25 for a cup of Pepsi.

My perspective on this is pretty well-rounded. I'm a lifelong fan, for starters. It's my great privilege to have, at WGR, a part in a forum where we can speak openly about the team, good and bad. And, like many of you, I'm one of those season-ticket holders that answered the call out of the canceled 2004-05 season. In fact, I run a ticket group that holds the rights to 20 seats.

And this season so far is yet another tightening of the vice.

The 100 Level Preferred seats that make up most of my allotment cost the season-ticket holder $90 a game -- not including the $102 spent on preseason tickets almost no one wants. In 2005 out of the canceled season that price was $49, a strong attempt deemed necessary by the Sabres to rebuild a disenfranchised fan base. I enjoyed the common feelings of excitement and pride upon buying seasons, and that's with no expectation of the great runs the Sabres made in those 2006 and 2007 seasons. Fond memories.

The premise was that if you buy season tickets you'll save money over having to buy tickets at the window, as they call it. Seems like common business practice: Buy more inventory, save money.

Now the field has been flipped, and season-ticket holders are getting the shaft.

Right now the secondary market is where it's at. The Sabres' next home game is Friday night, and as I write StubHub has 1,784 tickets to that game available -- the majority of which will go unsold, despite being listed at below the season-ticket price. This is on a Friday night, with nice weather, against a Canadian opponent (Vancouver), and it's the third home game of the season. It's far from being one of the least desirable games on their schedule. Barring an on-ice turnaround I do not foresee, this trend will continue, as it has in recent years, and for season-ticket holders continue to get worse.

With ticket-buying being one of many consumer experiences that has been made so much easier by the Internet, I struggle to see how owning season tickets will ever again be advantageous -- without, of course, the kind of drastic measures employed by the Sabres in 2005. An August piece by Austin Hubbard at The Ringer, titled "The End of Season Tickets", explained how most season tickets don't go to fans anyway; they're bought by brokers banking on a postseason resale market to make a profit. We're tricked into thinking that "real fans" hold the seats.

Imagine that -- sports, big business, trying to trick us.

Let me ask you this: If my seats are $90 each, and will go up annually from there, what kind of prices are we going to see on the resale market for Sabres games that will leave me thinking I got a good deal? Prices go up in the playoffs too. Are people going to be paying $300 a seat, say, for a first-round playoff game, and I'll be there having paid $125 saying see, all that money I poured into the regular season was worth it?

And if that is right, just when is that day coming, by the way? The Sabres show every sign this season of being a high lottery team, again.

All of this makes me very upset. I bought these tickets in the first place even though I have a press pass that gets me in the door for free. This year my friends and I paid them more than $78,000, or just more than what Ryan O'Reilly makes in one game. (So you know it's a lot.)

I've liked supporting the Sabres financially, and being a paying customer also gives me a clearer conscience when criticizing them. Not to mention that regular-season NHL hockey holds relatively minimal importance. The regular season is really the preseason. For most teams anyway.

As the losing seasons go by one by one, the money becomes harder to justify, and the feelings are a mixture of anger and sadness. You have to have that revenue sharing? When pricing Pepsi out of the lockout and other teams gave away food and drink, you had to have that quarter? Am I to assume we are not building new gas wells?

I'm very proud of my ticket group. Our draft is one of my favorite nights of the year. We have 26 members that share in the Sabres experience. And I'm wondering if the whole thing is dead on the vine.

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