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SABRES NEAR BOTTOM OF TICKET PRICE LADDER

The Buffalo Sabres can't afford to blame their drop in attendance this season on high ticket prices.

In the high-priced world of NHL entertainment, the Sabres don't have much room to go down.

The Sabres are in the bottom third of the 26 teams in the league in average ticket prices.

And Buffalo is one of only four NHL cities in which a fan can buy a single-game ticket near the ice for less than $40.

Precise rankings on NHL ticket prices are hard to determine, but the Sabres stand somewhere between 18th and 23rd out of 26 NHL teams.

The Sabres' average season-ticket price is $33.95. Individual-game tickets average about $35.75, not counting the $65 club seats, which are mostly season tickets. The NHL average for individual-game tickets is $40.78, according to Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based newsletter on sports business.

A survey of NHL prices finds that many "average fans" are priced out of sitting anywhere close to the ice.

Tampa Bay, Calgary and Edmonton are the only teams besides Buffalo that offer individual-game tickets for less than $40 in the "lower bowl," roughly the 20 rows closest to the ice.

"In a market like Buffalo you have to keep the prices as low as you can, and we've tried hard to do that," Sabres president Larry Quinn said.

"The problem in Buffalo, compared with other markets, is our corporate-based purchases are anywhere from 25 percent to 35 percent of the tickets sold," Quinn said. "The high-priced ticket in the NHL is priced as a corporate-expensed item. We have one of the smallest corporate bases of the NHL cities."

In Chicago, every seat in the lower bowl is $75 for individual games. In Boston, every lower bowl seat is $70 for individual games, $60 for season tickets. Virtually all the lower bowl seats in Boston's FleetCenter are sold out as season tickets.

In Pittsburgh, the center-ice lower bowl seats cost $125 for individual games. Most season-ticket holders pay $85 for them. Comparable seats in Buffalo cost $57 or $50 for individual games.

The New York Rangers rank somewhere around the middle in average prices, but their seats closest to the ice are among the most expensive -- $140.

"I've wondered," Quinn said, "if it would be cheaper for someone in New York to fly to Buffalo and buy our $38 tickets at the glass than to go to a Rangers game at the glass."

The Team Marketing Report ranks the Sabres at 23rd in the NHL in average game-day price. However, their number for the Sabres is a bit low, $31.46.

Team Marketing Report lists the NHL's game-day average ($40.78) as the highest in pro sports, above the NFL ($38.09), the NBA ($36.32) and Major League Baseball ($11.98).

"We're right up there with everybody else in professional sports," said Bernadette Mansur, NHL director of corporate communications.

"We have a policy of not talking about individual teams' ticket prices," Mansur said. "But in general, the clubs do some very ambitious programs to be as inclusive as possible to all the fans.

"We're driven by young fans. It's an essential philosophy of the league to bring young people in to have the arena experience."

For many young people, of course, that experience is nowhere near the ice.

THE HIGH COST OF GOOD SEATS

Every NHL team has inexpensive tickets in the upper deck. Few offer modest prices in the lower bowl -- within 20 rows of the ice. Here's a comparison of prices in the lower bowl of NHL arenas:
HIGHEST PRICES
New York Rangers $110-$140
Colorado $62-$139
Pittsburgh $75-$125
Chicago $75
Boston $70
LOWEST PRICES
Calgary $28-$67
Edmonton $34-$53
Buffalo $38-$57
Tampa Bay $38-$60
Los Angeles $44-$90
NOTE: Prices are for individual-game tickets. Canadian costs are converted to U.S. dollars.

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