Buffalo Sabres season-ticket holders will be able to watch the early rounds of the playoffs at regular-season prices.
The team is mailing out playoff-ticket invoices early this week, and the huge break for season-ticket holders represents a clear indication the team is doing everything it can to reward its best customers -- and build up the season-ticket base for next year.
Those season-ticket holders will find that their playoff tickets for Rounds 1 and 2 will cost anywhere from 43 to 75 percent less than the price charged at the box office.
"These are the people who have been with this organization through thick and thin," said Daniel DiPofi, the team's chief operating officer. "We didn't want to be perceived as saying, 'It's playoff time, and it's time to make up for lower season-ticket prices.' We wanted to say thank-you to those fans."
The Sabres' regular-season ticket prices are tricky, based on a variable pricing format that charges higher box-office prices for more popular games. Each regular-season game is ranked Gold, Silver, Bronze or Value.
The Sabres are extending that concept into the playoffs. In short, season-ticket holders will pay Value (cheapest) prices, while people walking up to the box office will pay Gold (most expensive) prices.
An example: A season-ticket holder buying a 100 Level III seat, behind one of the goals, will pay $29 per seat for the first two rounds, the same as the season-ticket price.
That same seat will cost $80 at the box office.
So the season-ticket holder will pay 63.8 percent less.
DiPofi said the Gold prices at the box office make sense.
"It's the playoffs," he said. "It's what everyone waits for, the culmination of the season. We could have said that the playoffs are even bigger than a Gold game in the regular season, but we wanted to be fair."
Minipack holders will receive a $2 discount off box-office prices.
People with season tickets or mini packs will be billed for the maximum four home games for each of the two rounds, or eight games.
As they mail out their playoff-ticket invoices, the Sabres also are set to announce another initiative to attract new season-ticket holders for next season.
Anyone making a 30 percent deposit on next year's season tickets, before the playoffs, will be able to buy playoff tickets at the much lower season-ticket prices. That 30 percent deposit will be based on this year's season-ticket prices.
It's all part of the Sabres' long-term goal to increase season-ticket sales.
This year's season-ticket total, including minipack sales, is about 8,800 per game, and the team expects additional minipack sales to push that figure close to 9,000. HSBC Arena seats 18,690.
So that leaves the team having to sell an average of almost 10,000 individual tickets to reach a sellout.
"That's a lot of tickets," DiPofi said. "That's why it's so important to have a season-ticket base of 12,000."
A strong season-ticket base also helps the team weather any downturn in the on-ice record.
"You're always going to have peaks and valleys," DiPofi said.
The Sabres' great play up to the Olympic break, hovering around 20 games over .500 in recent weeks, has led to an increase of about 17 percent in sold tickets, compared with the 2003-04 season.
The team has sold out nine of its last 12 home games, including Saturday night's game against Florida.
For the season, DiPofi is projecting about 650,000 total tickets sold, compared with about 550,000 two years ago. That's an average of about 15,800 per game, representing an increase of about 18 percent.
Some fans have questioned whether the Sabres, with their on-ice success and a more crowd-pleasing National Hockey League product, should be selling out every game.
"I couldn't be happier," DiPofi replied. "It doesn't get me down when Montreal's here on a weeknight in February [last Thursday], and you have 1,300 empty seats. I'll take that crowd every game."
The team is projecting a break-even year or a slight profit, without counting the playoff revenue.
Each playoff game is expected to yield a gross revenue of roughly $1 million. Arena expenses, travel, player bonuses, playoff money sent to the league and other costs knock the net revenue down to about $450,000 per playoff game.
So reaching the second round of the playoffs and playing at least four or five home playoff games could improve the bottom line by roughly $2 million.