James Mirtle

NHL season-ticket holders stand by their teams

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Canucks' season ticket holder Earl Gordon poses for a photograph at his home in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday December 28, 2012. (DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND AMIL)

There are more than 100,000 Canadians who hold season tickets for their local NHL team, but fewer than 200 are believed to have cancelled during the lockout so far.

That means if there is going to be any resounding anger directed at the league over missing another huge chunk of games due to a work stoppage – the NHL’s third in 18 years – it likely won’t be evident among the hard-core members of the seven Canadian teams’ fan bases.

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Three of the teams contacted this week were willing to put an exact figure on the number of cancellations they have had over the past 3 1/2 months: The Winnipeg Jets reported no cancellations; the Toronto Maple Leafs indicated they had had just one; and the Montreal Canadiens noted only eight people had given up their tickets.

“We’ve got extremely passionate and loyal fans,” Canadiens senior vice-president Donald Beauchamp said.

The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, said they have “averaged a couple of cancellations per week,” while the Ottawa Senators have had less than 1 per cent of their 11,300 season-ticket base walk away.

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers declined to comment.

Beyond their love of hockey, Canadian season-ticket holders have been hanging on for two major reasons.

No. 1 is that if fans give up their seats, they know they may never get them back. There are thousands of people paying a $50 to $100 annual fee simply to sit on waiting lists until tickets become available.

In Vancouver, where the season-ticket base is capped at 17,000, there are nearly 7,000 more seats spoken for on their wait list. In Montreal and Winnipeg, where fans waited 16 years for the return of their franchise last season, the number is closer to 8,000.

The other way Canadian NHL teams have kept their fans in the fold is by giving them options for what to do with their money during the lockout. In most cities, fans have been able to either receive refunds as games have been cancelled or collect interest on their cash if they leave it with the team.

For most, that has been enough.

Door No. 3 – cancelling their tickets for good – has been far less common, despite all of the outrage and disappointment over the NHL’s inability to get back on the ice.

Calgary

“I told myself that if this season was a write-off, I would no longer be a season-ticket holder, and I’m staying firm to that word. I can’t say that I won’t be a fan any more or suddenly stop watching the Flames. But attending games, season-ticket holding and buying merchandise? The Flames and the NHL can kiss that goodbye.

“This whole lockout brings back bitter memories. The Flames went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004 and then that lockout came and just crushed any momentum we had. I sided with the owners last time, and I remain with that stance this time. Although in this lockout, honestly, both sides are stubborn and idiotic if a full season is lost.”

Jay Kent, a financial analyst in the oil industry, cancelled his Flames tickets after three seasons despite being a hard-core fan who lives near the Saddledome.

Edmonton

“I’ve moved back to the East Coast, and I can’t sell the tickets because of the lockout. I’ve got a product to sell that nobody wants. I’ve had one person call me about the tickets: a guy from Red Deer. That was a couple of months back.

“I’m almost hoping they cancel the season so I can get a refund, but I feel guilty saying that. I’m surprised the NHL could lose two seasons in that short a period of time.”

Marcus Peck, a government worker, had Oilers season tickets last year but is trying to sell this year’s after returning to live in St. John’s.

Montreal

“I’ve had the tickets since the last lockout, actually. The person who used to own them just got sick and tired of it all. It’s the only way I could ever have got hold of them. I’m a die-hard Canadiens fan, but one of the reasons I wanted the tickets was because I figured the last contract would give us something solid for the long run. I guess I was wrong.

“It feels like we’re being held hostage. I’ve had to pay our deposits, and the interest that’s building up on that money isn’t going into my pocket. But I’m not at the point where I’d give them up. I’d never be able to get tickets that good ever again … although from a fan standpoint, it sure hasn’t been fun.”

Sylvain Archambault, who owns and runs a financial-management company, plans to hang on to his choice seats behind the Canadiens bench at the Bell Centre.

Ottawa

“Cancelling my package was not an easy decision. I really like what the club does here in Ottawa. I think the people are good, committed individuals who want a successful club with strong ties to the community. Collectively they do good deeds in the community. Ottawa is better for having them. And I really enjoyed the unexpected excitement of last year’s team. I really want the club to be successful.

“But I am really pissed off at the NHL. My only leverage is my money. So I had to pull out to send my tiny message of protest. To its credit, the club did not put up a hard fight when I sent them the request. They are between a rock and a hard place. I suspect that the strategy is that if they are reasonable at the local level, they mitigate the overall alienation that the NHL is fostering. And they may be right.

“But I am definitely not going back if this season ever gets started, or next season either. There have to be consequences for the decisions to date. The NHL cannot count on me returning, but I will always keep an eye on the Sens even if they don’t get any of my money.”

Valerie Wutti, a public servant, cancelled her Senators season tickets after six years because of the lockout.

Toronto

“At this point, I’m quite pleased there isn’t any hockey because we’ve been receiving a substandard product for a premium price. Any other industry would not tolerate that, but people are trapped into the licences. They’ve got to keep paying, otherwise they lose the licences.

“The owners are greedy, the players are greedy, and ultimately the fans are the ones who pay the price when the league gets going, at least in Toronto. I’m not [angry] at the players. It’s really the management providing a substandard product.”

Romas Krilavicius, a long-time Leafs season-ticket holder through his company, Rutherford Global Logistics, said his seat licences for two platinum seats are now worth much more than the $20,000 he paid for each of them, and their value will rise whenever the NHL resumes playing. Getting rid of the licences now would not make business sense.

Vancouver

“I don’t miss the NHL that much. I’ve compensated with watching more Premier League soccer, plus I finally got around to watching The Wire. Oh, and spending more time with my family. If there is a season this year, I don’t plan on going to any regular-season games.

“I haven’t decided what I’ll do if there are playoffs. I’ll probably cave and end up going. And as much as I’d like to send a message that I’m angry, I’m going to keep my season tickets. They’re too valuable to give up.”

Earl Gordon, a management consultant, has had Canucks tickets since 2003.

Winnipeg

“Even though I am very frustrated about this lockout, I never contemplated cancelling my season tickets. You must understand that we in Winnipeg waited 15 years to get our team back and whenever the NHL returns from the lockout, I will be there for the opening faceoff. Jet tickets are gold in Winnipeg!

“We are very fortunate to have the ownership group that we have here, and I am definitely on their side. If someone offered me a 50-50 partnership in revenues, and I didn’t have to invest any money or take any risk, I am all in for that deal. I firmly believe the players want to play, but Donald Fehr is negotiating for his ego and not with a passion for the game.”

Paul Kuzina, a sales associate in commercial real estate, was one of the Jets’ 13,000 season-ticket holders for the franchise’s first season back in the city.

With reports from David Ebner in Vancouver, Allan Maki in Calgary, David Shoalts in Toronto and Sean Gordon in Montreal