Off the hook

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

Ken King refuses to use the s-word or the c-word these days. But the reality is sellouts and capacity crowds will provide the backdrop for each and every Flames game this season.

Long before the puck drops Oct. 5 to open a new era for the NHL, every seat in the Saddledome will be spoken for.

If you don't have tickets by month's end, you won't get any. The Calgary Flames will be sold out this year. It's that simple.

Harkening back to the franchise's glory days of the '80s, a sizeable waiting list for season tickets is growing, the possibility of buying game-day seats will be a pipe dream and scalpers will have a heyday hawking upper-loge seats in a city that has more reason than any other to be hyped up about the NHL's return.

"We have 600 game packs and 2,500 people who want them -- that's just a taste of it," admitted team president Ken King yesterday, cautious not to take anything for granted in a city on the verge of losing its team just five years ago.

"We have 713,000 seats to sell (17,400 tickets over 41 games) and, yes, there is a chance we may complete all those transactions."

Pay no attention to his soft-shoe -- it will happen.

Today at 2 p.m., the Flames website will unveil its Game Packs, which will boil down to being an exercise in public relations as the club tries to quench an insatiable desire for ducats. The team didn't even bother advertising the announcement.

"Our phones are ringing all day every day -- the response is literally overwhelming," said King.

"In the face of what appears to be incredible demand we want to exhibit fairness and be loyal to those loyal to us. What do you say to someone who cancelled season tickets, regrets it, wants them back and we've sold their seats? You try to get them back in the building."

That won't be easy in a city where the hundreds of thousands who walked the Red Mile fully expect to see their team hailed as a preseason Stanley Cup favourite.

Thanks largely to the Flames' 2004 playoff run, a returning core of the team and the recent free-agent signings, the hockey hysteria in Calgary is truly unique in a league where overall revenues and interest will fall considerably due to the lockout. Teams around the U.S. are begging fans to return with ticket discounts and other incentives. Even Leafs fans are having a hard time getting pumped.

"When I was asked during the lockout, 'what are you going to do to get your fans back?' -- I never answered that because for us it's a different question," said King without a hint of arrogance.

"Our question was, 'how are we going to ensure we meet the demand of the fans that are coming back because it may outstrip supply?' "

So how did it come to this?

"We performed the single greatest marketing act, which is creating a team around which people can gather and be attached to," said King, crediting the owners' dedication and Darryl Sutter's genius.

That act started in 2004 and has been added to significantly by way of a new CBA, which Sutter has used brilliantly to maximize resources.

The last time the Flames played hockey they did so in front of 12,700 season-ticket holders -- a number boosted during the playoffs and now dwarfed. Suites, club seats and lower-bowl tickets are long gone. It's a far cry from the days when, in the midst of seven years without playoffs, ownership had to beg for support during the Save Our Flames campaign of 2000. It was then you couldn't give Flames tickets away. Now, they're as hot a commodity as oil.

And almost as hard to find.


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