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$40, $50, $60 -- to park!?! ; As Buffalo welcomes hockey fans, those who drive find that lots near arena are gougers' paradise

Fans attending Tuesday afternoon's Finland-Switzerland hockey game could have bought two tickets and parked their vehicle for a total of $46.

The twist, though, is that the tickets could have been purchased on a secondary ticket market for $3 apiece -- and the parking for $40.

Welcome to the World Junior Hockey Championship's version of Economics 101, a hockey tournament that features both bargains galore and some serious price gouging, in and around HSBC Arena.

Even before noon Tuesday, callers were complaining about the signs asking $40 for parking just west of Michigan Avenue, between Scott and Perry streets.

Forty dollars to park a car, in Buffalo? Since when did this become Toronto or New York City? some fans wondered.

But it was worse than that.

People wishing to dump their cars in that lot, just a few hundred yards from the arena, got a second dose of sticker shock, having to pay $60 if they attended more than one game in the tripleheader.

Lorne Haley, 45, of Ancaster, Ont., had just spent two hours waiting to cross the Peace Bridge with two friends, when they noticed the $40 parking sign on the Pay 2 Park lot near the arena.

"You can't do anything about the border," Haley said.

But he was going to do something about the attendant charging him a higher price than the posted amount. His buddies moved the vehicle while he vented his feelings.

"Putting up a sign that says $40 and then charging $60, that [ticks] me off," he said. "They're just hosing me."

Sixty dollars seemed like a local record.

Buffalo Sabres fans typically pay $10 to $15 for parking at a game.

"Sixty dollars for the day?" asked Pat Crawford, of Stratford, Ont. "That's outrageous. It's not even that much for a [Toronto Maple] Leafs game, and they like to gouge you."

Wayne Edwards of Ottawa, attending the game with his father, Gary, said he usually pays $11 to park at Scotiabank Place there. They paid $60 parking for the three games Tuesday.

"Man, oh, man, they ought to give you a [hockey jersey] for that amount," Wayne Edwards said.

Mac Yule of Hillsburgh, Ont., who showed up with seven family members for the Canada game, was philosophical about the $40 price, realizing that it was just $5 per person.

"Forty dollars is a little pricey," he said. "Once you're across the border, you're going to the game. You're not going to turn away because of $40 parking. But they know that, so it's gouging."

And in another twist, Yule's crew, which showed up a couple of hours early for the Canada game, got a bargain. The price had jumped to $50 well before game time for the Canada-Czech Republic game.

Pay 2 Park officials could not be reached to comment in repeated attempts late Tuesday.

The economics of the whole World Juniors tournament can be a little baffling. Seldom have people paid such different prices for different games in one tournament.

That's partly because the tournament uses the same variable-pricing concept that the Buffalo Sabres, the tournament's host sponsors, have used for several years, basing the price on the anticipated demand.

Take Tuesday's tripleheader, for example.

Fans earlier could have bought all-session passes for all 21 games in HSBC Arena or day passes for the double- and tripleheaders.

They also can buy tickets for one game, through the tournament's website, by phone or at HSBC Arena. For the Finland-Switzerland opener Tuesday, they would have paid $40 a ticket for the Lower Bowl, $25 for the Upper Bowl, compared with the Canada-Czech game price of $105/$70.

Or fans could have bought tickets on the secondary market, or in front of the arena.

Nick Guerin of South Buffalo bought two Finland-Switzerland tickets on the street for $20 total, not long before the start of the game.

"It was like $3 [per ticket] on StubHub last night, but we just decided to go this morning," Guerin said, realizing that he still paid well under the box-office price.

A Buffalo News reporter saw three pairs of Finland-Switzerland tickets traded for $20 a pair in the hour before the 12:30 p.m. start.

Scalpers weren't even buying tickets for that game.

"I wouldn't even pay 'em $5 apiece," longtime scalper John Harris said. "It would be senseless, knowing that there's no demand for tickets."

A few hours later, Harris and other scalpers reported that tickets for the Canada-Czech Republic game were selling for anywhere from $25 to $75 apiece, still below box-office price.

"There's no demand for tickets," Harris said of the situation early in the tournament. "Everybody's looking for the U.S.-Canada showdown. Other than that, it's dead."

Scalpers are salivating about a potential U.S.-Canada game in the medal round.

"That's be like a Stanley Cup championship playoff ticket," Harris said. "I would say you'd be talking a few hundred dollars a ticket for the good seats."

Could that ticket price exceed $1,000?

"Maybe on eBay," he replied, "but never on the streets."

Much of the demand for this event clearly is coming from north of the border.

"You're so close to the Canadian market, within two hours of 3 to 4 million people who live and breathe hockey," said Jamie Bosomworth of Toronto. "Any international Canadian hockey team, we just support it 100 percent."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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