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Leaf playoff ticket prices: fair or not?

Before I get into the gist of today’s post, a quick comment on the Leafs’ visit to the sunshine state.  After a sort of skate-around loss in Tampa, a win over the hapless Panthers (last year’s surprise team in the East; food for thought) will no doubt fuel some Leaf fans that want to see someone (anyone?) other than Bozak center the Leafs’ top line. 

The Kadri insertion into the first grouping with Kessel obviously worked nicely, but my guess is a fair number of centers might have looked good against the listless Panthers alongside a red-hot Kessel.  (We can debate later the merits of putting your most creative offensive eggs in one basket at playoff time, and what can happen when teams do that…)  Hey, I’ve been saying for weeks that Kadri has been perhaps the most dynamic, creative Leaf this season, a guy with remarkable vision and smarts.  Yes, his game slid somewhat over the past while, but he has no doubt emerged as a player the other team has to be aware of whenever he’s on the ice.  I’m just not sure I would draw too many conclusions as to whether he should be moved “up”, based on a couple periods of hockey.

In any event, for one night, some Leafers were thrilled to see Kadri and Kessel side by side.  I’m guessing Bozak slides back into his familiar slot next week, but Carlyle continued his year of experimentation on Thursday night in Sunrise, Florida—just in case.

My instincts suggest (well, really, it’s more like 55 years of being part of Leafworld and being well aware of the emotional ups and downs that go hand-in-hand with this avocation) there will be a lot of debate in Leafland about who should be on our game sheet (Gardiner, etc.) in Round one.  And as I often say, that’s our privilege as fans.  We love to debate that sort of stuff and give the coach of the team plenty of input.

Carlyle’s job is to put the team on the ice that he thinks—based on knowing the roster better than any of us—has the best chance to win.

That means he will ignore us all, also sometimes part of a coach’s job.


I’m one of those fans who is not in a position to spend a lot of money to buy a pair of tickets to a Leaf playoff game, almost regardless of the price.  But I could not help but notice this week that MLSE has announced its playoff ticket pricing structure and not surprisingly, the cost for tickets will be, well, awfully high, eh?

Now, I suppose we can say that, in fairness to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, they have not raised the price of playoff tickets for nine years, so hey, inflation and all that, right?  Of course, Leaf fans well know that they have not had the opportunity to gouge the ticket-paying public over those years at playoff time, and this is their first shot since 2004 to really push eager fans to spend to the max, as it were.

No doubt a lot of those seats will be bought up by big corporations—who line MLSE’s already-stuffed pockets with even more cash in these situations.  Those companies don’t likely care how much playoff ducats are; they presumably use the tickets  as tax write-offs to entertain customers.

But the “regular” season-ticket holders—and those simply looking to take in a playoff encounter—will be paying a stiff price, no question.

Now, you may be like myself and are not in a position to even consider spending that kind of money to attend a game.  Or you may live out of the Toronto market area and it’s just not realistic for you anyway.  But for those who are nearby and may have been considering a ticket purchase, did the MLSE announcement surprise you?  Do you feel the prices are fair, relative to the high cost of entertainment these days?

Maybe as importantly, do you see this as “just business”, something the Leaf owners have to do to pay the big salaries the players make? Does MLSE need to make tons of money so they earn the big profits that allow them to keep building the roster to build the “winner” fans want to see?  Or again, is this more of a cash grab that maybe makes the organization look needlessly greedy?

Some may feel that, in light of the recent lockout and the fact that the Leafs have not been very good for the past almost ten years, that as a “thank you”, the Leafs would moderate their ticket prices, even in the playoffs.

My guess is Kevin Lowe, the President of the Edmonton Oilers, was indirectly speaking for NHL ownership and management all around the league last week in his tension-filled  press conference when he announced the firing of Steve Tambellini.  Lowe essentially said (before apologizing the next day) that the Oilers care almost exclusively about “paying” customers.

Based on that revealing comment, the everyday fan was/is clearly not in the picture for NHL ownership and management. 

To be clear, in my view, the everyday fan does in fact “pay” for being a fan.  Every time a mom or dad buys a pack of hockey cards for their kids, every time they pay (for themselves or a family member) for a licensed jersey, they are giving money to the NHL, the PA and to the Maple Leafs.  Every time they listen to the radio or watch games on TV, it drives up “ratings”—ratings that allow teams to charge huge amounts to corporations for critically important advertising revenue for the owners.  So we “little people” fans matter, too.

But teams don’t much care, it seems.  They essentially care about those in the building, and mostly about corporate seat and suite buyers and those in a financial position to purchase expensive season tickets.

I recognize that that is life, and it’s how things are in sports nowadays.  And corporations will charge what the market is willing to pay.

I’m not sure that makes it right, or fair, or even justifiable, but I’m guessing many people see it, again, as just “business” and a case of supply and demand.

Some of you visiting here may recall that I’ve made various suggestions over time, things MLSE could do for fans in light of the lockout (and, I suppose, almost ten years of sub-par hockey).  They could, for example, set aside one night a season and fill the ACC with kids who otherwise would never have the means to get to a game (and their care-givers, at no charge…while giving regular season-ticket holders the night off).  Then we’d see people in their seats in the lower bowel, and we’d hear noise in the rink like nobody’s business.

But that kind of stuff would never be initiated by an organization like Maple Leaf Sports.  They’d give all kinds of reasons why they can’t, and cite all the “good things” they already do in the community as ways they give back to the community.

But my sense is they would never give where it would “hurt”—in their corporate pocket book.

In any event, how do you see the playoff ticket announcement? Are you angry, disappointed, think it's just fine or simply don’t care?  Do you accept this as the way things have to be in sports, or are the Leafs taking advantage of the situation?


  1. Hey Michael,

    The leafs win on the 2nd of a back-to-back - been a while since that happened - not sure if it even happened before tonight during this season.

    But lets remember it is the panthers - no need to say anymore.

    Now, with this win and the islanders loss - we are guaranteed one of spot # 5 or 6 - if we don't get at least a single point in our next game and the Sens win their remaining two - then they could jump over us. And unfortunately with the Montreal win tonight - home ice possibilities are gone.

    Kadri has been good this year - but the month of April should remind every single one of us fans the importance of Kessel to this team - he has been great - 2nd only to Ovi in that duration in points.

    The two looked nice together but I wouldn't put them together over a series and that too with Lupul - that is asking to be burned defensively in one of those tight games - Randy is too smart for that to happen - this was a test - for perhaps the future but not this post-season.

    I am torn over what the line-up should be as well - the best possible line-up or the best chemistry line-up - which may not include some better skilled players like Gardiner, Colbourne, Hamilton and Kostka. Time will tell what happens and what works best - lets just sit and enjoy the experience.

    Playoff hockey is something else - I still remember the leafs knocking out the sens several years in a row in the early 2000's - some of my best memories as a leaf fan. I would have loved to be at such a game at the age of 13-14, lol, but hey being a middle-class immigrant kid - a leaf playoff ticket is not a possibility - so I can understand the greatness of your idea - even for a regular season game against a team like the stars would be awesome.

    Am I angry - no - it is a business for the leafs to make a profit - and the marketplace is full of demand for such a limited commodity - so it is understandable.

    However, I am disappointed - they could have tried to be creative - but they weren't - after 9 years of crappy play/a lockout - They could have had been nicer to the fans - but they weren't.

    This is one of the reasons that I would very much love another team in the GTA - imagine - if things had worked out for Hamilton when the RIM owner tried to move the penguins - lol - the leafs would have laid out a red carpet for the masses.

    But ce la vie - in leafland.

    Anon from Scarborough.

  2. Those Ottawa series were a lot of fun (easy to say that when you win), Scarborough Anon. Series against, say, the Devils I don't remember as fondly!

    Looks now like the Leafs will face the Habs, eh? Should be something.

    I appreciate your perspective on MLSE. Business, I guess.

    I've not historically been a fan of a second franchise in Toronto, but I can absolutely understand the arguments in favour.

    Thanks Scarborough Anon. Looking forward to hearing when the league releases the playoff schedule.

  3. Well, it is most likely us vs. the Habs in the 1st round - oh it will be just the best thing ever - I can already imagine the heated arguments and hatred that will build between these teams and their fan base.

    And this might be the biggest incentive for Grabovski to put as big a dagger as one can into the hopes of the much hated former team - lol. I look forward to one the greatest efforts of his career in Toronto in the coming series.

    Let's make these "Habs" the "Hab-nots"

    Go leafs Go!!!

    Anon from Scarborough

  4. Great post Michael.

    I'm glad you're bringing these things up even though it upsets me and I'd rather not think about it. Frankly, the whole debate about business and all the millions and billions that are being thrown around in professional sports sickens me, not to mention the support for the wars and policing that seems to be the requirement for players and coaches if they are to even get the look at the ice...

    Even though I suspect Tim Thomas of having the wrong (from my perspective) reasons for refusing to visit the White House with the Bruins, I really appreciate his decision to exercise his right to not be a pawn in the political game and legitimize the establishment by following the pre-recorded script. I find it pretty depressing that not more professional athletes are refusing to be used to promote war and establishment politics. The culture of complacency among the professional athletes is something that's been bugging me for a long time. I understand that, having trained instead of studied or socialized since the young age, these guys may not be the deepest critical thinkers, but still, a lot of them come from humble backgrounds and must have opinions that do not coincide with what they are made to do. I wonder how, for example, James Reimer deals with the visits to military bases while holding Mennonite (pacifist) beliefs. It must be hard.

    The bottom line, I think, is money. Big sports is big business and is really not much different from Hollywood - the idea is to sell dreams and make more money for everyone involved, the product is made of expandable human beings who are talented and good at what they do and the consumer (us) gets to watch them perform cool tricks until they get old and not-so-good at performing in the circus and are replaced by younger, stronger, prettier 'pieces'. I think it's more than revealing to take a look at how the 'draft' works. It is, in many ways, a very similar affair to slave markets that used to operate on this continent not really that long ago. Pretty degrading for the 'pieces' actually I'd say...

    I don't want to push the analogy too far though. Of course, it is hardly appropriate to call millionaires slaves. They are stars and they get all the 'freedom' in the world - all the perks money can buy in this world - but there is a catch: they cannot have opinions, they cannot say what they think.

    Wouldn't it be great if Kadri came out and said that MLSE should be ashamed of themselves for charging an entire welfare cheque for a ticket when the biggest Leafs fans are the guys sleeping on the street the ACC is on, or if Reimer said that he's not supporting the troops because he is against the senseless imperialist conquests around the word? It's never gonna happen. Because money talks. They get paid to shut up and play.

    Of course the ticket prices are unfair, of course it was outright disgusting watching the millionaires fighting billionaires over millions during the lockout. Of course it is a crying shame that people like you (perhaps the greatest and most engaged, knowledgable, devoted etc. fan of this club who is spending countless hours promoting their 'product' for free on the world-wide web) are not sitting in the platinum seats every game for free. But that's what you get for letting the sport, like pretty much everything else in today's society, be taken over by large corporations whose only God is profit. And that's what we get for wanting to watch our favourite game that they fully and completely own.

    So, perhaps the best thing to do is remember that we're caught up in a dream and continue to pretend that it really matters who wins ('our' guys or 'their' guys) just like the guys on the ice do, because afterall, it's only a game and asking questions will only make it harder to enjoy.

  5. You've touched on a range of important subjects that go well beyond "the game" leafdreamer, and I appreciate that.

    I think we all, as fans but as people, first, of course, work to set aside personal views and frustrations when we jump on board the sports "train". That is, it's a fantasy world, a dream world, so if we bring our point of view to the table on social issues or things that truly matter on an everyday basis- we'll never enjoy sports at all. We'd be assessing if certain players hold our views on any number of crucial subjects dear to our heart, and we'd never allow ourselves to enjoy the 'fan' experience.

    Yes, as you say, the players are caught in their own way. Most tow the party line, whether it's MLSE or anywhere else. And understandably so, I guess. (Does even Tiger Woods take a stand on many issues? Yet he would be in a position to do so.)

    I haven't done your post today justice, leafdreamer, but believe me, I get what you're saying. The ticket price situation is just a symptom of what's going on in the world. Money drives the bus, sadly- always has, always will, it seems.

    I respect the legacy that is the Maple Leafs. I don't always like individual coaches, owners, GM's, players, whatever, but I have long appreciated the history of this sport, and those who have built on the history and that legacy. That means, sometimes, setting aside my "views" and just letting myself be a fan. Thanks leafdreamer.

  6. As we all know, MLSE is a "business" first, and everything else is second. They try to put on a nice image, but money drives this show, lets never forget. Owned by Rogers and Bell, two mammoth communication companies, they are well known for their compassion to their customers and willingness to offer superior product & services at unbelievably fair prices. *cough* *cough*
    Let's face it, they will charge whatever their market will bear. For the Leafs, the ACC crowd is primarily made up of four groups;
    1) Rich corporate seats & boxes
    2) MLSE & NHL owned guest seats
    3) Wealthy season ticket holders (part business purposes, part fans)
    4) Season ticket holders (who generally pool/share their tickets with others)
    5) Fans willing to buy remaining available seats or pay scalpers.

    Over my many years, I've had a chance to sit amongst each of the five groups above. Group 4 and 5 are the true fans, and they generally passionately care about the team. They love to cheer, make noise, and they want a winner. They begrudgingly pay the prices, but attending games is still a special event. Group 3 are what I consider as part-time fans. They own the seats partly as a business write-off, partly as a status thing, and partly as wealthy sport fans. They can be astute fans, but generally they are not as vocal or passionate as the true Leaf fan. Group 2 can be almost anyone, but their tickets are often free. They generally have very good seats, but it is hit and miss whether they are Leaf fans, or how noisy or enthusiastic they might be.

    As for Group 1, well this is the MLSE gravy train, and MLSE will cater to them (literally and figuratively), no matter what. All the while, they will charge them exorbitant prices and sell them as many amenities as they are willing to consume. Sadly this group either goes to the games as a business meeting or as a social event to schmooze with other corporate ladder climbers. The game is part of the process, but generally it is not their focus for the evening. The only time their seats are occupied with true fans is when they happen to give away their seats to those who truly love the game (e.g. their employees, or to business contacts who happen to be fans as well).

    By-in-large LeafNation can get the ACC rocking, but if the players are sluggish and giving up too much to the opposition, then the ACC can be an awfully subdued crowd. Th place can be even noisier if it is an important game, or against an intense rivalry like Montreal or Ottawa. Needless to say, a playoff game against the Habs would fit both categories. Heck you could probably sell out the ACC for the away games as well, and just let the fans watch on the jumbotron. I bet MLSE has already considered doing just that, albeit at more reasonable prices. They might even consider that as part of your giving-back Michael, and open the place up for free (with the exception of free concessions of course).

    Aside from all the talk of money, profits and MLSE, like most fans I'm really looking forward to the playoffs. Even more so if it happens to be against the Habs!

    s fansbut also because they like to be seen amongst the it is an event for the wealthier

  7. I appreciate that comment, Don (TML_fan). You've presented the backdrop for how MLSE operates well, I'm sure!

    Back in the day, when I was a very young man, I had "season's tickets" at the Gardens in the "cheap seats" (the greys). Four dollars a game. Fabulous memories. On rare occasions I sat in the greens, reds or golds over the years. Ownership nowadays caters more than ever to the first group you cited above.

    Like you, I'll enjoy, at long last, a playoff match-up. But it won't be at the ACC.

    That said, I hope that those that are there enjoy the games immensely and make themselves heard.

    Thanks Don.