Price hike latest punishment for fans

ROB GRANATSTEIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Toronto Maple Leafs fans have a right to be furious.

Not just because the team is an embarrassment this year, continuing a tradition that -- except for a couple of fun runs to the conference finals -- has made those born after 1967 question their loyalty.

Not just because of the king's ransom the team wants for tickets to see this bunch of third-liners play.

This time, it's due to the paltry but still ridiculous 3.5% increase in ticket prices for next year -- and the limp attempts to spin the hike as completely justified.

That's what should have fans extra steamed.

"We got to a point where we had to do it (raise ticket prices)," Tom Anselmi, chief operating officer for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), told the Globe and Mail Wednesday.

Gee, it must have been that licence to print money that forced the team's hand.

In an e-mail to the Toronto Sun on Monday, Anselmi wrote: "We're very sensitive to pricing, especially in a tough economy.

"We gave it careful consideration, however, not many businesses have had inflation of only 1% over the last four years."

Anselmi agrees the team's payroll is $23 million US less this year than in 2004-05, the year before the lockout (and we all know the team wasn't swimming in red ink before the lockout).

He doesn't mention the substantial TV and radio revenues that continue to fuel Toronto's NHL club more than anywhere else in the league.

But cue the spin. Anselmi argues the Leafs are now paying into NHL revenue-sharing, for constant improvements to the Air Canada Centre, including a new $8-million scoreboard (isn't that a regular part of a business?) and for a richer series of contracts for front office and coaching staff. And all that, he says, impacts the bottom line.

So Brian Burke's contract -- the one the Leafs offered him -- is the problem?

Maybe it's the millions they're paying all the fired and failed front office staff, like, say ex-Raptor coach Sam Mitchell's remaining two-and-a-half years. In light of that, the last thing I'd be doing is raising Raptor ticket prices.

We won't even discuss the $9 million MLSE handed Alonzo Mourning to never set foot in the Raptors' locker room.

The last time ticket prices jumped, 2003-04, the Leafs sold the move by reminding fans the team had 98 points the previous season, and played in 11 playoff series in the five seasons leading up to that hike.

Obviously, there's no buyers on that sales job this time.

As we all know by watching all the spectators dressed as empty seats at the start of every period, average fans aren't the ones who can afford seats or go to Leaf games, so what's another 3.5%? Mortgage payment or Leafs tickets isn't a hard decision for most.

And don't cry for the poor owners. Team CEO Richard Peddie has made a second career out of denying the $400 million US value placed on the team by publications like Forbes.

And the half-billion dollar project MLSE is building off the west side of the ACC is sure to pad the pocket books, too.

Meanwhile, if you go to a game (I'm lucky to make it once a year), you know it's the same show night after night, same gags, and $9 beer.

True, the team is doing good things in the community, like investing in our local outdoor rinks, plus making investments in BMO Field and the new four-plex of rinks in Etobicoke to replace the Lakeshore Lions arena.

And sure, the Leafs do this to make money, but at the same time these are facilities this city is sorely lacking and the tax base won't finance on its own.

The Leafs are largely owned by local owners, like Larry Tanenbaum.

Those smart men should be worried about struggling businesses looking at laying off staff, versus having a private box or platinum seats and choosing business over pleasure.

And average Leaf fans who do watch from the purples should be ready to revolt. We're already revolted by the on-ice product.

Then again, we're Leaf fans. We like punishment.

ROB.GRANATSTEIN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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