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Sabres tickets are few and far between Average availability about 1,000 a game

Top Buffalo Sabres officials all have fielded similar phone calls in the last couple of weeks, from fans trying to find a way to buy a pair of tickets to an upcoming game.

Most of the time, tickets still are available at the box office.

"I thought you were sold out," the fan invariably replies.

No, the Sabres aren't sold out for the whole season.

Six of the 40 home games left on the Sabres schedule are virtually sold out, with only single seats left for those games.

The team still has a total of about 43,000 tickets left, or a little more than 1,000 for the average game. Most games have between 500 and 1,600 seats left.

Sabres officials say this year's situation is fairly similar to last year's, with demand down a little bit. Last year, at this time, the team had about 28,000 tickets left.

So compared with last year, ticket sales are off by about 15,000 tickets total.

"With the economy the way it is and the fact we didn't make the playoffs last year, the fact that we're down about 375 tickets a game is very encouraging," Daniel J. DiPofi, chief operating officer and minority owner, said Wednesday.

"Our goal is to sell out the whole season. Based on what we're tracking, I think that's definitely possible. I think there may be a handful of games where we'll still have single seats available."

What does that mean for the team's bottom line this season?

"Right now, I'd say we'd be close to breaking even, maybe even losing a little bit, without the playoffs," DiPofi said.

But he won't discuss specifics on revenue and expenses, and he wouldn't say how much the team could make with an extended playoff run. "We're here for the long run," DiPofi said of the ownership team headed by B. Thomas Golisano. "Tom's here for the long run, but we have to make sure it's sensible. So far, it has been."

The list of six virtually sold-out games for the rest of the season shows that Sabres fans still enjoy a relative bargain. Under the team's variable-pricing plan, three of this season's 41 home games were designated as Value games, the cheapest of five pricing levels.

All three of those Value games -- early season weeknight games against Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Nashville -- have only single tickets available. Another virtually sold-out game is the Pittsburgh Penguins game on the night after Thanksgiving.

Here are the approximate numbers of seats left for the next several games: Friday night, Vancouver, 600 tickets; Tuesday, Boston, 1,400; Oct. 27, Ottawa, 800; Oct. 30, Tampa Bay, only single seats; Nov. 1, Washington, 850; and Nov. 7, Atlanta, 1,600.

The Sabres capped their season-ticket sales at 14,800 this season, and they have a waiting list of Blue & Gold Club members who have put down $100 deposits for about 2,200 seats. They also have a second waiting list requiring no deposit.

So the Sabres believe they easily could have sold 17,000 season tickets, in an arena that seats 18,690. The team wants to have a few thousand seats available for individual games, for several reasons. They don't want to discourage the fan who can attend only a handful of games each year. They want to create a demand with their waiting list. And they charge much more for individual game tickets than season tickets.

For example, 100 Level III tickets cost $35 per game for season-ticket holders. That same seat, at the ticket window, goes for anywhere from $42 for a Value game to $155 for a Platinum game.

"Obviously, a season-ticket base is the lifeblood for our organization," DiPofi said. "To keep season-ticket prices at reasonable rates, we have to rely on walk-up sales [with the higher prices]."

DiPofi acknowledges that the Sabres, like any other business, have concerns about the current economic picture.

"But I don't think the national economic landscape is going to have that big an effect [on us]," he said. "This is a hockey town. This year, I think fans are going to choose the Buffalo Sabres over Disneyland."


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