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The first Sabres giveback is rolled out

SabslogoJust two days after the Buffalo Sabres announced that ticket prices for season ticket holders and single game purchasers will remain the same as previously announced last summer, the team has presented its first tangible “giveback” to its fans and customers.

The Sabres will be holding a “Fan Appreciation Sale”, which will be a 50% reduction in all merchandise at the Sabres team store at the First Niagara Center. The sale will begin during training camp and conclude at the end of the first home game at the arena. The store will also be open beyond its normal 10am-5pm scheduled hours whenever a team scrimmage or public practice is scheduled.

In a statement released to the media by the team’s public relations department, Sabres President Ted Black said, “Our fans showed tremendous patience and loyalty during the past few months. Nothing will erase the pain of a lockout and cancelled games but we wanted to give back to our fans in this way to get them excited for what is sure to be a fast-paced and thrilling 2012-13 season.”

While this gesture to the fan base is a decent one, the fact of the matter is the 15,500 tickets held by season ticket holders of record have been greatly inconvenienced by this work stoppage, and the Sabres front office seems to be doing little to address this issue, except to thump out their chests and congratulate themselves as to how few cancellations they suffered since last year (about 80 according to figures supplied by the team).

Consider this: last March season subscribers sent in hefty checks to cover their costs for rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs. Those playoffs never happened. Many then rolled those dollars into their deposits for 2012-13 season tickets, and added payments throughout the summer to cover their sizable bills. Then came the lockout, and the option to either receive refunds or allow the team to hold the moneys and pay out 4% simple interest which would eventually be credited in the form of Sabrebucks. Those who opted for refunds got their partial checks or credits in dribs and drabs throughout the fall; the rest have had moneys tied up into their tickets for as long as ten months.

Add the latest outrage, which is beyond the team’s control. The news of end of the lockout is now in its 5th day, and as of 4PM Thursday the league has yet to unveil its 2013 schedule. Many season ticket customers split their seats among shareholders (disclosure time, I own 8 season tickets and the parsing out of my tickets on such short notice is going to be an absolute nightmare); others might have vacation plans or pending outings which might be on hold until home dates are revealed. Others sell off excess seats, especially those Leafs games to those Toronto fans who like to come here and watch their team lose. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced yesterday that the schedule would not be announced until the NHLPA formally announces its ratification vote. What that seminal moment has to do with the details of the schedule is anyone’s guess.

Bottom line: the team needs to do more. Thousands of season ticket holders representing 15,500 tickets, the financial cornerstone of the franchise, have been severely inconvenienced, yes emotionally, but certainly financially by having thousands of dollars per ticket being tied up in an accounting and payment jumble over the past 10 months. The half price t-shirt or jersey is nice, the apology by President Black heartfelt and sincere, and the “Thank You Fans” message which might once again appear on the ice, well, OK. But the customers who write the checks have been burdened, and will continue to be burdened in the coming days and weeks, as they have to make game night plans on a very short notice, receive their printed tickets at most likely the very last minute, then have to plan and distribute and put those tickets to good use.

Some other teams have leaked plans for dirt cheap season passes and free ticket for kids. Here’s hoping that Ted Black and his front office team evaluate this further, and can do a bit better as well.