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Hockey tickets are expensive, but there’s nothing any government can do to help

Wednesday, March 15, 2017   (0 Comments)

| | Nationalpost.com

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young, talented hockey team that has a shot at the playoffs just a couple of years after finally undertaking the teardown-and-rebuild project for which fans have been begging for most of my life. Upstairs, though, it’s still the same old Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment: on Monday, the team announced it would hike season ticket prices by $7 to $16 per game … for the benefit of the fans.

“If we don’t price the tickets appropriately versus what the market is going to pay for them, guess what happens,” MLSE’s chief commercial officer David Hopkinson told the Toronto Star. “The tickets don’t get cheaper. Just other guys make the money … and that doesn’t help your hockey team. That doesn’t help us get better.”

As a PR strategy, it’s hilariously ridiculous. The Leafs can’t “get better” with more money; the NHL salary cap is $73 million, and by Forbes magazine’s reckoning the Leafs cover that with gate receipts alone. As a business strategy, however, it’s only common sense: the team plausibly claims upper-bowl seats resell at an average 75 per cent mark-up, and lower bowl seats at 25 per cent.

Frankly it’s weird that MLSE, of all companies has been content for so long to subsidize an entire resale industry. They’re making tens of thousands of dollars a game less than they ought to be, and that will still be true after these fairly modest increases. If the Leafs wanted to auction their tickets off to the highest bidder, I’d say more power to them — same goes for every other team and performer out there, too.

My views seem to be in the minority. Queen’s Park is fixing for a fight with online ticket resellers and the dreaded bots — software that snatches up tickets automatically as soon as they go on sale to the public (if not before). The issue roared to prominence in Canada when the bots sank their teeth into The Tragically Hip’s farewell tour. This wasn’t just any concert tour, people fumed. This was sacrilege.

“Hearing that our tickets were being bought by scalper bots, leaving real fans shut out from our shows, was terrible,” Hip guitarist Rob Baker said in a statement last month. Luckily, he said, “the government is listening.”

If you’re reading this Thursday, you have missed your chance to contribute to Attorney General Yasir Naqvi’s public consultation on “what … the government (should) do to regulate the ticket market and help protect consumers.” Doing nothing wasn’t one of the choices (though you could write it in). Rather, the government seems to be leaning toward restrictions on online resale: capping the markup, for example, or banning the bots. Both are probably fool’s errands.

Whatever you think of Stubhub and other resellers, they at least offer peace of mind: you know the ticket is real, and you know where it is. Take it or leave it. If you cap the profits to be had in reputable environments, you benefit disreputable ones. There are, after all, billions of dollars to be made off priced-under-market sporting events and concerts in North America — “that’s like cocaine money,” as Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino once put it. Profit finds a way. Selling cocaine is, after all, illegal.


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