Train Wreck

by Ryan

The last 36 hours have just been a mess. It is almost laughable how long it took to announce this thing, and downright tragic how fast it went by.

Here’s a brief timeline for those of you interested:

7/10: Rumors of the event first start swirling.

7/11: NHL 07/08 scheduele is announced, with Pittsburgh coming to Buffalo on January 1st.

8/11: One month later, mini pack orders arrive with the New Year’s Day game not listed.

9/13: Sabres Media Relations plan an announcement at The Ralph for September 17th.

9/15: Sabres single game tickets go on sale, excluding the 1/1/08 game.

9/17:

Morning: Mini Pack and Season Ticket Holders recieve
letter offering tickets to
Winter Classic
-2PM: Sabres and NHL officially announce Winter Classic.
Tickets set for sale at 10AM Tuesday(9/18)
-5PM: Sabres Account Services closes for the day.

9/18-

10AM: Winter Classic Tickets go on sale to general
public.
>30 minutes later:
41,000+ available tickets sold
out.

Now, that’s a solid 10 weeks from first word to tickets sold. Ten weeks. And the NHL announces this game 20 hours before tickets go on sale? Really? I understand that the logistics of organizing an event like this are very complicated, but that timeline really doesn’t make sense.

Let’s assume that in 10 weeks they settled the TicketMaster/Tickets.com dispute, signed agreements with sponsors, did a TV deal, negotiated with the Bills and Ralph Wilson Stadium brass, aligned concessions, and finalized a rink/seating design. Fair enough. But why wait so long to announce the event itself, then rush the sale of tickets?

Twenty hours is an extremely short span of time to get the public educated on the ticket procedure for any event, let alone a monster event like this. Not to mention Account Services were open less than three hours after this announcement to answer questions.

Yesterday’s announcement was so unclear, Sabres spokesman Michael Gilbert calls in to WGR550 that night to clarify questions the show’s hosts had. Just imagine how many other questions were left unanswered. Season ticket and mini pack holders were given no specific limit on tickets that were “reserved” for them. They will have to send their orders in and hope they have enough seats to go around.

According to this story, no ticket limit was put in place because the NHL could not gauge demand for an event like this and wanted to encourage youth hockey and other large groups to have a crack at tickets.

My reaction to that is this: Youth Hockey can go [verb] themselves in the [noun]. Send the little booger eaters to an AHL game. The same goes for the Penguins organization requesting more seats for Pens season ticket holders. Pens fans had just as much an opportunity to get tickets as everyone else in Buffalo. There are plenty of people in this area hoping for more tickets, and most will have to settle for the 7,000 or so obstructed view seats down low.

And as far as Leafs and Blue Jays(!?!) season ticket holders getting a special crack at tickets, well, I can’t even begin to describe how asinine that is. Forget the fact that only a few hundred or so tickets were sold through that method. Who the hell decided that Leafs fans should get preferred treatment? And what about Blue Jays fans? What, is Russ Adams a big Paul Gaustad fan?

Also, why was this information not revealed to the public as part of the big shindig at the Ralph yesterday? Did Bettman not want to disclose he was giving a completely uninvolved fan base a special shot at tickets?

When it comes down to it, today’s events were a train wreck. Very little information was given, zero preparation time was allowed, and very few people are walking away from this happy. So now comes the fun part: who’s to blame?

Gary. Freaking. Bettman. Remember, this event is completely coordinated by the NHL. In 2003 the Oilers orchestrated the Heritage Classic, not the league. Bettman and Company let Edmonton plan the event and coasted along as it happened.

This time is different. The league approached the Sabres to host the event, but did the planning with the teams following their lead. Regardless of how much the Sabres screwed up this off season, the ball is not in their hands with the Winter Classic.

So when thousands of fans are left watching on TV this winter, remember all those seats taken up by NHL execs and the event’s sponsors. If you are a mini pack holder and don’t get your tickets, keep in mind the week of uncertainty you were left with, and the chances for seats you passed on. And if you are a Regular Joe who hoped to score a ticket today based on God’s Dice, be thankful for that whopping 20 hours notice you were given. You can’t even order a freaking party sub with that notice.

Today was just another example of how bad things can go when you put something new and shiny in a toddler’s hands. Gary Bettman is the toddler in this case, and I for one curse the day David Stern and the NBA left him in a box on our doorstep.

2 Comments

  1. Jonathan Grant Keller

    Well—if we slow things down for the general population we might as well become socialist. I’m not quite sure where the train wreck reference applies…the successful sell-out or the average Buffaloian’s ‘ticket IQ’.

    If we REALLY wanted tickets, we all had the option of going to HSBC or the Ralph. The internet is ALWAYS a roll of the dice…especially for events like this.

  2. RJ

    You’re missing the point. I’m not talking about the “ticket IQ” of Buffalo sports fans, nor am I suggesting a socialism-based marketing plan.

    My criticisms are directed at how the NHL handled the sale of tickets. This event has everything to do with publicity, and they should not have to deal with questions of who was allowed to get tickets over the fact that they all sold out.

    Waiting just a day or two to clarify things would have saved both the league and the Sabres the massive headache that was Tuesday. After ten weeks of nothing, Monday and Tuesday just look sloppy.