Tuesday, December 7, 2010

About the Pittsburgh game and ticket sales

The Dispatch's Tom Reed shares some of the fallout from the absurd (surreal?) Pittsburgh game experience by sharing the results of a conversation that he had with the Columbus Blue Jackets' Larry Hoepner - the team's VP of business operations.

(Side note: I've met Mr. Hoepner once before, at CannonFest.  He came across to me as a genuinely nice man who was interested in making the Columbus Blue Jackets everything it could and should be.  If you call that bias, so be it.  I liked the man.)

Long story short:
  1. Opposing team fans (or at least opposing team jersey-wearing fans) shouldn't expect complimentary zamboni rides anytime soon.
  2. "The club, which is struggling at the gate, also will explore ways to ensure Jackets' fans get the first chance to buy tickets for popular draws such as the Penguins, Red Wings and Blackhawks."
The article then rationalizes away why the Columbus Blue Jackets can't be overly restrictive on ticket sales.  In essence, the team is so starved for ticket sales that it'll take them any way they can.  

Here's my take: 
  1. The zamboni thing (and moving Pittsburgh fans to the Big Lots "cushy chair" section) is pure symbolism.  It's great that the CBJ is going to make policy changes to fix that, but that's appearances.  
  2. The ticket sale matter is a different story.  What no one seems to get (but Matt Wagner at The Cannon oh-so-gently touches on) is that the flawed process of pre-selling individual game tickets directly led to this problem.  
I'll try to explain as best I can from my memory of the process back in September.  I might be off on a specific point here or there but stand behind my recollection enough that I'm willing to put it up on the blog.  If I'm in error on the facts, PLEASE post a comment so I can make corrections.

So, what happened?

When the CBJ announced that individual game tickets were for sale prior to the start of the season, they offered a "pre-sale" to season ticket holders and partial game package holders.  
  • The STH's went first - they had a code (RJ18) that they could use on Ticketmaster to get tickets at a reasonably significant discount.  
  • A day or so later, partial package holders got another code (JAKUB93) and they could go on Ticketmaster and got a discount that wasn't quite as good as the STH's.  (I cannot recall if there were a couple rounds of partial package availabilities and codes, or if there was just one.  For this article, that's not as relevant, however.)
  • Another day or so later, the CBJ opened up the ticket sales to the public and sold the tickets at face value.
That sounds like a perfectly logical and rational business process.  You give those who make the biggest financial commitment to the team the first crack at extra tickets, and give them an incentive to spring for a few more.  And then do the same for those who make a lesser commitment.  Then let the public get the scraps.

The problem, though, was this.  As I alluded in my Pittsburgh game recap, the RJ18 code somehow made it onto the Pittsburgh message boards before average joes in Columbus and Ohio even had a shot at the tickets.

A partial screen capture from LetsGoPens.com's message board.  Click the graphic to go straight to these message posts.
Note the mentions of the "RJ18" code, as well as the dates that the codes were used.
This is proof that Penguins fans had access to CBJ-Pens game tickets before nearly any other potential ticket buyers.
[UPDATE: I learned in the comments that the code also made its way onto The Pens Blog:]

[Let's all thank our Pens-loving friend in Zanesville, whose STH buddy gave them the code.]

So, functionally, the Pens fans jumped in line and bought loads of tickets at a cheaper price than all but a few thousand full season ticket holders would be able to pay.  

I can presume that the code was not released to Pittsburgh fans by the CBJ ticket office, which means that a CBJ season ticket holder was responsible for the leak.  I cannot say this emphatically enough: Shame on them.  

At the same time, I do not blame the Pittsburgh fans to taking full advantage of the opening that they were given.  Hell, I would have done the same thing if I was in their shoes and had their motivation/resources.  

I do, however, have to fault the CBJ themselves for not putting safeguards in place to protect against this from happening.  If the tickets made it through the presale and then were snatched by Pens fans as opposed to the general public, then that's our fault as CBJ fans and ticket package holders.  But the Pens fans exploited a team-created loophole to preempt that situation.  

In the interest of being fair to the CBJ, however, I can say that I've seen this situation once before.  As a Notre Dame college football fan, I saw my home stadium overwhelmed in 2000 by visiting Nebraska fans in what is now derisively called The Sea of Red.  The circumstances were different (ND alumni, faculty and staff profiteering to satisfy overwhelming Nebraska fan demand), but the outcome was essentially the same:


At the same time, let me as what makes the outcome any different than what we experienced on Saturday night?

In case you missed it, that's an overwhelming number of boos for the home Blue Jackets and an identical number of cheers for the visiting Penguins.

In both instances, I'll suggest that the home team's business operations team was caught flat-footed.  Notre Dame had no reason to think that their alums and employees would sell out so easily.  And while there were signs that Pens fans could exhibit such behavior (past strong Pens fan presence at Nationwide, the Washington Capitals' ongoing efforts to restrict ticket sales to those fans), I'll give the CBJ the benefit of the doubt that they had no idea that it would be this overwhelming - and then fueled by the Game Ops pandering to Pens fans.

Where to go from here?

Well, the easy part was taken care of.  If you are wearing the other team's gear, take it off if you want to take advantage of our hospitality.  That's simple.

On ticket sales, however, I'm not going to suggest that the team "ban" sales to Pennsylvania addresses.  Hoepner and his folks are right - they need ticket sales.  What I'm hoping will come of this is simply an even playing field between Pens fans and the rest of the general public (of which, presuming they don't buy CBJ ticket packages, they are as well).  Here are a couple of ways to get there:
  1. On some online purchases for other tickets, I have been given a code that is unique to my person, usually some weird combination of letters and numbers.  Only I can use that code, and once I make my one purchase, that's it.  I might be wrong, but I think that this exact system was used on Ticketmaster, so it's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that the CBJ might investigate it.
  2. Presuming that this customer-unique code concept was used, the team could restrict the number of tickets that an individual buyer could purchase online.  If you are eligible, want more and are in the pre-sale period, call the team and you can work out a deal.  Then the onus is on the ticket office to handle the extraordinary requests.  
  3. After the pre-sale period ends, it's open season for Blue Jackets and Pens fans alike.
If such a simple system was used, the worst that could happen is that a season ticket holder passes on his code to his Pens-loving friend, who is stopped at buying X tickets.  I suppose a season ticket holder could purchase a bunch of tickets through the ticket office on his own dime and resell them to Penguins Nation, but at least the CBJ are not making it as ridiculously easy as LetsGoPens suggests.  

I have no idea if the CBJ have investigated this idea.  I have no idea if it is possible, nor do I know how much it costs to implemen if it is possible.  I don't even know that it's the best possible idea out there.  

But I have to think this: As damaging as the Pittsburgh game was to fan and community morale - not to mention local enthusiasm about going to see Columbus' hockey team - don't you think that it's worth turning over every stone to make sure that such an embarrassing moment never happens again?

Onward and upward.


  1. The only thing I saw that I disagree with the is Pens fans and the "hockey atmosphere". It was brutal for a home fan, yes, but I feel like it would be worse if the jackets had won. 80% of those there aren't from Pittsburgh, and while I hate to say it, actual Pittsburghians are classy as hell. It would've been worse.

  2. DBJ =
    I have spoken with my season ticket rep about this issue and given him some suggestions about what they can do moving forward. I also had occaision to be down at the arena when all this stuff was posted (Pensblog had a scan of the promo with the code posted), and I mentioned that to someone in the sales area, and he felt there was nothing they could do about it, since one of our season ticket holders had given it out. Having experienced that fiasco, I respectfully disagree, and have made some specific suggestions that are pretty darn easy to implement. The easiest would be to require the use of the season ticket holder account number in conjunction with the code. That's the problem with that game, is the Pens fans accessed those tickets before our local fan base had a chance, and that is a shame, and can be avoided in the future without violating interstate commerce laws. If the CBJ determine they have been harmed, they could likely have until next September to take legal action on a 'conspiracy to commit interstate fraud'. The message boards and the Pensblog could find themselves liable for any damages. But you would have to prove the damages. And as difficult a night that was for the organization, it was a huge sellout and we need the money. So check the ego at the door, and fix it the next time.

  3. TCH - Not having been in the arena, I can't make any judgements about the behavior beyond that which I have been able to pick up online. Like the YouTube video, which was not out of line but certainly was demoralizing for a CBJ fan.

    gallos - Sounds like we're on the same page. Unique code, STH account number...essentially the same thing. And I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to tread into matters of fraud.

  4. There were a number of Penguins fans who were . . . well, drunk and insulting. But that goes with the territory a bit. Saw the same thing with the fans from Buffalo a couple of years ago, just in smaller numbers.

    What I frankly objected to most was the carrying on during the National Anthem. Call me old school, but I was raised that you maintain a respectful silence during the anthem -- something that I see observed almost everywhere else. We don't have issues during other CBJ games. I guess that lesson skipped Pittsburgh.

  5. Oh wow, yes, during the National Anthem, cries for "LET'S GO PENS" was about as low as it gets. I was ready to leave after the first period, the way the crowd was.

  6. Agreed with Jeff - by far the worst part of their behavior was trying to shout down the National Anthem. When I heard them doing that, I was incredibly angry.

    The massive forest of beer bottles left outside of Nationwide was also pretty tasteless, but at least you could walk around those.

  7. As someone who served in the military for this great country, I have to agree with BZArcher, AKA Goldfish and JAL. I was (expletive deleted) that people in this day and age have zero respect for their country, our armed services or themselves. Shame on the Pittsburgh "fans" who would dishonor our nation. Show your respect.

  8. Pens fans showed up big time. When there are 185 straight sell out games in a row in Pittsburgh and Columbus is only 3 hours away AND it's a Saturday night game, this is what happens. I think it shows passion and loyalty. R-BAR was PACKED and 99% full of Pens fans. Columbus will get better, and maybe one day the fans can travel to other arenas and show their support. Pens fans were LOUD.

  9. Its sad that people can rationalize this away simply by saying "at least we got their (Pens fans) money"

    Prostitution is still a crime... like it or not...

  10. Anyone who participates on a fan message board has seen these STH codes posted, so it's certainly not necessary for a Pens fan to get them through some secret negotiations. The only solution is to win, fill the Arena, and beat up the Pens on the ice. All of that will make for a much better hockey environment, around here! Oh, and don't let folks in visitors' sweater ride the zamboni!

    As for the disrespect for the anthem, the supply of fools appears to be bottomless. Sorry, there is no cure.

  11. The problem with the anthem disrespect is that in places like Chicago, they take PRIDE in screaming while the anthem is sung. It isn't even a unique idea for the pitts. fans(so why doesn't THAT surprise me) The lack of respect for our turf, as it were, is simply another attempt to intimidate the opponent. The ticket code solution, unique codes for EACH S.T.H. sounds like the best solution, and is perfectly legal. The only question is, will sales go to the trouble(?) of protecting the home fans from this type of assault again?

  12. Seems childish and whiny. What happens when season ticket holders are the only ones able to access these games and the arena sits half full? What happens if a CBJ-Pens game sells out to only Ohio residents but they sell their tickets to Pens fans willing to pay more?

    Opposing team fans attending games is a fact of life, the sooner you realize that, the sooner you begin to get over it. Ticket sale restrictions also make it more difficult for locals to get the tickets.

    Want to make a point? Come to our arena, Toronto does it, I am sure the Ohio folks can figure out a way to do the same.

    And to call this an "assault" is one of the dumbest ideas ever, I dont even think Gary Bettman would think of it...

  13. I appreciate your fervor for your team, Tom, but your interpretation of this particular blog post is so far off the mark that it doesn't warrant further response.

    Best of luck in the playoffs.

  14. One point that I have yet to hear mentioned is the fact that Pens fans were buying DISCOUNT tickets en masse. Opposing fans have every right to attend games, but they should at least pay full price for it. Heck, I am surprised that the sales department is not more upset at the amount of lost revenue from discounted seats.

    I just wonder how much of this is a by-product of the arena-lease situation. I wonder if someone more hockey-centric than Priest will take over once that gets sorted out.

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