Fans given ticket reprieve

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Facing a third straight year out of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs have decided not to risk further public backlash by raising ticket prices next year.

But the Raptors' fans are finding success has a price, with an average 6% increase across the board.

Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (MLSEL), said yesterday that Leafs' ducats will remain at their present levels for 2008-09 and will actually drop a smidgen with the 1% reduction in the federal GST.

Leaf prices now range from $37-$182 for season-ticket holders, slightly more for the few thousand seats that are on public sale. Peddie admitted the timing for another jump wouldn't be great, after a 5% increase in May of 2007 marked the end of a two-year freeze.

"We haven't missed the playoffs yet, but the year has not been acceptable and it's just not the right thing to do at the moment." Peddie said.

The Leafs are consistently ranked as the National Hockey League's most profitable franchise, worth $413 million US, according to Forbes Magazine -- a number disputed by MLSEL. But Peddie insisted MLSEL is going to feel the pinch of their decision to hold the line on ticket prices.

"Our biggest cost is (league) revenue sharing," Peddie said. "It's $10 million right now, the most in the league. It's part of the collective bargaining agreement, but it's much higher than we imagined for this year. I think people miss that fact.

"(Leaf) revenue is up, but the salary cap is going up next season (from just about $50 million to a predicted $53 million) and while the (American) dollar is down, we face increasing costs for energy as it affects our travel and our building. We have to pay more for insurance, we've been investing more in coaching, scouting and the Toronto Marlies (farm team)."

It's also believed MLSEL has put millions aside to buy out some huge no-trade contracts, the legacy of fired general manager John Ferguson.

As far as MLSEL cashing in on the playoff-bound Raptors, Peddie cited some of the same issues facing the Leafs, particularly the salaries.

"Costs are going up, the payroll has increased dramatically as we lock up more and more players," he said.

THE COST OF BUSINESS

John Lashway, MLSEL's senior vice-president, said basketball ticket prices had increased in the range of 6% during the previous four years combined.

"There aren't many successful businesses operating that haven't increased their prices by a far greater margin in that span of time," Lashway told Sun Media's Mike Ganter. "In that time we have invested tens of millions of dollars back into the Air Canada Centre, enhancing the game experience for our fans (a new $4 million dehumidification system and a new video board coming this summer).

"Ticket prices are never tied directly to team success. In 2005-06 the Raptors won only 27 games, but had to increase prices 3% the following season. Ticket prices are influenced primarily by business costs, such as operating costs and the decision by ownership to invest in the team."


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