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Sabres give fans some credit Season tickets on rise, but rebates offered

Playing the market can be pretty risky these days so the Buffalo Sabres are hoping you'll take a gamble on them instead. And if you're looking for some economic stimulus in your pocket, the Sabres are getting set to unveil a season-ticket plan that might fit that bill, too.

The team is in the process of sending invoices to its customers to inform them of a 5 percent increase in the price of season tickets for the 2009-10 NHL season.

But there's intriguing news in that announcement as well.

Fans who commit to renewing by March 20 can get sizable discounts on potential Stanley Cup playoff games this spring -- and the team will be crediting customers' '09-10 accounts with rebates matching the discounts. Factoring in rebates, fans may actually pay less for their tickets for next season if the team goes deep into the playoffs.

"We're not sitting around thinking, 'Oh my God, we're going to have this big decline in season-ticket renewals,' because the bottom line is we really don't believe that," Sabres minority owner Larry Quinn said. "But we do want to do something to relieve the pressure on people from the economic situation.

"This is a way we can do it. I don't think we need to do this to get people to renew. What we're trying to figure out is simply how do we give fans a break?"

The Sabres have roughly 15,000 season tickets. Seats range from $20-$80 per game, and will go for $21-$84 next year.

The invoices will also include bills for the first two rounds of the playoffs, totaling eight potential home games.

Fans who don't want to commit to renewing for next season now will pay an extra 5 percent for each playoff round. But fans who pay for the first two rounds and commit to next season by making a 10 percent deposit will see sizable savings.

A 300 Level II customer, for instance, pays $26 per game for a season ticket this year and will pay next year's price of $27 for the first round if he doesn't commit to a renewal. But if he meets the March 20 deadline, the cost will be $22 and the $5 per ticket difference will be credited to next year's season-ticket account.

The Sabres have charted the discounts for all four potential playoff rounds. In round two, for instance, non-early renewal season prices will be $23-$92 but those taking the rebate deal will pay $18-$74. By round three, factoring in all the rebates, the price for next year's season ticket would be $15-$60 less than it would be this year and it would be $39-$160 less if the Sabres made the Stanley Cup finals.

"Our experience is that 95 percent of our season-ticket holders buy playoff tickets," Quinn said. "One might say in the current climate you can't count on that but the reality is that if you buy a season ticket you're buying them to get the playoffs. So now, for somebody that says, 'Yeah, I'm renewing early,' if we go to the third round their total cost is less next year than it will be for this year."

Naturally, this is where the reality check element comes in. It's certainly a long shot to think the Sabres will make the third round of the playoffs, let alone the Cup finals, as they battle to stay in the top eight of the Eastern Conference.

Increases, however, would still be nominal even if the Sabres miss the playoffs. The total cost of a season ticket would only increase $41-$164 if the Sabres miss out and fans don't renew early.

Box office prices for the playoffs have also been established, with the first round following the team's "gold" pricing of the regular season minus 15 percent, leaving tickets at $49-$147. Round two would be regular gold prices of $58-$173.

"We know the story can be, 'Well they're raising their season-ticket prices,' but actually we think we're doing something a lot better," Quinn said. "We're helping people out. We're trying to show recognition of the way people have been loyal to us."

The Sabres said they were 26th out of the 30 NHL teams in average season-ticket price but have to increase their prices for next year in order to maintain their eligibility for the league's revenue sharing program.

"We haven't figured out the payment schedule from that point in March but once we have commitments from people we're obviously going to try to be as flexible as possible with each case," added minority owner Dan DiPofi. "The key is that we'll know we have the commitment from somebody, so we're not going to be trying to get all the money by July."

The team will not make decisions on individual-game ticket prices for next season until after the '09-10 schedule is released in mid-July. Quinn reaffirmed the club will lower its "platinum" level prices in response to non-sellouts last week against Toronto and Montreal.

"There'll also be an adjustment in the mix," DiPofi said. "You might see a few more value games, one less gold, one more silver, whatever. That's the beauty of that variable plan. You can change prices, change the number of games in each category if you find demand isn't there."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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