SUN Hockey Pool

Flames face Heritage headache

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

CALGARY - What is supposed to be a celebration of the game is quickly turning into a public relations predicament for the Calgary Flames.

Three days into the initial offering of tickets to the Heritage Classic and a rash of season-ticket holders are furious, lighting up the club's phone lines with complaints.

Some bristle at having to pay almost eight times what they pay for their Saddledome seats, others are upset with their seat location and the fact it's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, denying loyal customers the chance to upgrade or add to their allotted tickets.

"When you have overcooked demand, you always have unhappy people -- it's not unanticipated," said Flames president Ken King, admittedly inundated with complaints since Monday when season-ticket holders were given first crack at the outdoor game Feb. 20 against Montreal at McMahon Stadium.

"Basically, it's location and price, in that order. If they don't like where they are, they don't like the price. We'll answer all their e-mails and phone calls. We could have done a better job educating them on the challenges of having an arena in an outdoor setting."

While many are accusing the club of using the unique game as a cash-grab, King is quick to point out the NHL purchased the event from the Flames and no one stands to gain much at all even with ticket prices ranging from $49 to $249.

"At best, it's a marginal enterprise, and at worst, it's not inconceivable at all it could lose money," said King, pointing out the logistics of maintaining the stadium until February and building the rink.

"Effectively, it's a big show, and if you want to have it, this is what it costs. So why do you do it? Because everyone wanted it back in Canada."

Where it belongs.

Make no mistake, those who attend the game -- and it will be a sellout -- will remember it forever.

People need to keep in mind the only good seats available for an outdoor hockey game are on the bench. The rink is too far from the ice, some seats are too low to see much at all and some are too high. The beefs King is hearing about are legitimate, as some fans realize the seats they've been allotted -- based entirely on season-ticket location and seniority -- are actually cold, metal benches without seat backs.

"There's simply no outdoor venue that provides better seating than an indoor rink," said King, pointing out the league made 20,000 tickets available to the Flames to sell.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but we knew there'd be headaches. We have to make sure people understand the economics and the difference between indoor and outdoor. It's really an event."

With temporary seating in the endzones pushing capacity over 40,000, the Flames determined any more additional seating was cost prohibitive. One season-ticket holder who sits 19 rows up in the corner of the second level at the Dome will see his seats go from just under $40 to $166.95. At McMahon, he'll sit 32 rows up in section M -- the last endzone section. Others see their ticket base go from $21 to $166.95. No, the price doesn't include Sorels and a parka.

"We're in the business of making people happy -- some are very happy, some aren't and we want to do what we can to please everybody," said King, adding the average ticket price is still below last year's Grey Cup game at McMahon.

"Then the rest of the world is going to say 'I didn't get one,' so they're mad."

The Flames sent out answers to frequently asked questions with the mailings Monday, and season ticket holders have until Nov. 15 to buy the assigned seats. If not, they'll be made available to those who've bought game packs and the general public via a lottery system expected to attract tens of thousands from across North America.

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panelist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada

twitter.com/ericfrancis


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