Leaf ticket price cuts just a token gesture

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:26 PM ET

The longtime hockey executive was fairly to the point. "These people make Harold Ballard look like an altar boy."

Yesterday's Toronto Maple Leafs ticket price reduction notwithstanding, there are those who view the crusty late owner of the Maple Leafs preferable to the slick corporate operators now in charge of the storied franchise.

In a gesture to its fans, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment knocked five per cent off ticket prices to Leafs games for the next two seasons yesterday. That means fans will have to give only an arm, not a leg, and your first-born is safe for the time being as the Leafs prepare to resume play in the fall.

Fans will have to cough up $173 for the top platinum seat -- instead of $182 -- and if you sit among the peons of the purples, it's a low, low price of $35 a ducat instead of $37.

The company says more than 43 per cent of the seats at Air Canada Centre will be priced at $68 or less and 14 per cent will be capped at $35 for regular-season games.

If they go deep into the playoffs, however, you still might wind up with only one leg to stand on along with one hand to grip your overpriced suds.

It should be pointed out, the Leafs didn't have to do this. In a supply-demand economy, they've got the supply (the team) and there has never been doubt about the demand (the so-called Leaf Nation) since 1946, when subscribers began leaving their tickets to heirs in their wills.

The Leafs are one franchise that lost a tonne of revenue through the lockout. Conversely, they will be saving at least $16 million a season under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Anybody who ever paid a six-pack price for a single beer at a game cannot help but feel the corporate owners are reaching for every possible nickel. One story making the rounds said Leafs season tickets could be had only by buying a season-ticket package to the basketball Raptors, also part of the Maple Leaf Sports empire.

"Not so," Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Maple Leaf Sports, said yesterday. "That was something we offered those interested in club seats."

Tuesday is the deadline for a down payment on season-ticket renewals and it has been suggested those who don't renew by the deadline will be deemed not interested and the seats will be resold.

Anselmi didn't hit that one head-on, instead saying all season-ticket holders will be contacted by the end of August. He did say about 20 subscriber seats come available annually.

In a statement announcing the ticket price cuts, Anselmi noted that along with lower player costs, the club "will be incurring significant expenses that are new to us, totalling tens of millions of dollars."

Could those expenses, given some accounting procedures, be found in the loss of revenues the Leafs experienced during the hockey-less winter?

One thing has always been clear. The number of tickets at any stadium or arena is finite, as former owner Ballard found out one game when he had to amble out onto the sidewalk in front of Maple Leaf Gardens and buy a couple he'd promised for friends. He was not amused.

For that matter, neither was NHL vice-president Jim Gregory when he sought to replace a pair of red club seats with lesser seats. General manager of the Leafs for 10 years, Gregory (who is not the exec mentioned earlier) was offered two near the last row, not together, so history or status cuts no ice with corporate hockey ownership.

Ballard would have ranted, but he'd have bent a little.


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