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The potential return of the Winter Classic

December 21, 2011

Could the Winter Classic return to Buffalo?

Ted Black has made many a comment regarding his desire to return the Winter Classic to Buffalo. Based on the wild success of the first installment, it would certainly be a welcome return.

The post is fueled only by the passing comments Black has made about his desire to host the event. However, his diligence could certainly bring quick results in terms of hosting. Not to mention the fact that Terry Pegula’s money could seriously augment the roster over the coming seasons.

I would predict Buffalo could see the Winter Classic again by 2015. Minnesota, Detroit and Washington are likely to be in the running to host the event before any seconds are offered. Colorado would also be in the running if they can become relevant. But Minnesota certainly deserves a shot and Detroit and Washington likely have a wink-wink, nudge-nudge agreement with the league to get a game in the next few seasons.

So, Buffalo is probably three years away from being a candidate to participate in another Classic, let alone host one. While the league has doubled back regarding participants, no team has hosted twice in the history of the five-year event. In fact, the most recent hosts were former visitors; another factor aiding Detroit and Washington. Regardless, the weather in Buffalo is usually cooperative to this sort of event (aside from this year) and the fans showed overwhelming support the first time around. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

Aside from the hurdle of other teams getting first dibs, fans will also need to deal with another monster altogether. Tickets.

The 2008 Winter Classic sold out somewhere in the 30-minute neighborhood. Fans were left to scratch and claw the secondary markets for a seat. My seat (in the final row of the Ralph) cost me $100, face value was $39. Ticket availability won’t be the issue should the Classic return. It will be the same nightmare it was in 2008. Regardless of venus, every Classic has a mad scramble for the precious few tickets. The true issue will be cost should Buffalo host another Winter Classic.

Here is a rundown of the prices for 2008:

  • The most affordable seats were in the upper deck. $29 in the corners, $39 between the blue lines. These were, in fact, wonderful seats to watch a hockey game from.
  • The end zones (Rockpile, Family section etc.) ran at $55 a pop.
  • The lowest rows were originally going to be blocked off, they were later sold. The other partially obstructed seats went for $60.
  • The remainder of the lower bowl sold for $90 a seat. There was a small section below the press box that sold for $110.
  • The heated club seats were the most expensive, selling for $203

Obviously there is going to be a price jump. By comparison, the upper deck at Heinz Field went for exactly $100 more per seat ($129 for corners, $139 between the blue line). The club level seats were modestly increased ($250 or $225) and the lower bowl went between $149 and $199. Obstructed view seats sold for $99 or $49.

This study is ignoring the secondary market. Obviously any seat sold on the secondary market will be astronomical. Whether the game is played in Washington, Buffalo or Minnesota, there will be a hefty markup on those seats.

The magnitude and appeal of this game is all that is needed to increase ticket prices. Those who went to the first game should consider themselves lucky. Not only was it a pretty good game, the even itself was brilliant, and the cost is peanuts compared to the following installments.

So it will be a few more years before the Sabres will be considered for the Winter Classic again. If the Ralph were to serve host to the Classic again, the lowest ticket price won’t be anywhere close to $29. In fact, you might venture to guess the tickets would likely range from $100 to $300 in the 70,000+ seat venue (consider the tickets at baseball stadiums have been far higher due to supply).

Having the Winter Classic return to Buffalo would be beyond magical. However, star saving your pennies now, another Classic will lighten Buffalonians pockets significantly more than the first time around.

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