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Mike Harrington: Another Sabres price hike tarnishes an otherwise solid week

We just went through what has to rate as one of the better weeks for Terry and Kim Pegula in a long time. They're getting universally praised for their choice of general managers for both the Sabres and Bills, and with good reason. It will be much easier for Jason Botterill and Brandon Beane to win the press conferences than to actually win games, but it was good to see ownership go in a badly-needed new direction.

That's why it was so disappointing to see the Pegulas go in one same old direction again: Soaking their customers.

We shouldn't be surprised the Sabres are raising prices on season tickets yet again, keeping the Pegulas' streak alive of an increase every year since they took over the owners' box. After all, business is business and they didn't get rich by turning down money.

But the lack of respect for the customer continues. And it's hard to fathom. My Twitter feed lit up like a Christmas tree Friday afternoon with angry folks complaining about the latest price hike. For a team that has won absolutely nothing since Pegula hit town in 2011, hitting the wallets of the best customers again is a bit much.

Now, some caveats here.

Without having all teams' numbers for next season, anecdotal evidence still says the Sabres' season prices are low. The top ticket in the house is $121. If you're not in Row 1, the top seat in the 100 level is $90. The cheapest seat in the 300 level can be had for $30. The Sabres' increases are $1-$5 per game.

But every season seat in the building has gone up at least 30 percent since the Pegulas took over, with some rising as much as 47 percent. And there hasn't been a single playoff game in that span. That's just plain not right.

Sabres increase season-ticket prices again for 2017-18

The Capitals announced a $5 across the board hike in March, much tougher to stomach for the little guys. Also that month -- even before they became a playoff sensation -- the Toronto Maple Leafs announced a $7-$16 increase for next season. Remember, that's per ticket per game for 41 games. And who has just one ticket?

The problem comes in perception. The Sabres' price hikes are done to qualify for the league's revenue sharing program (what happened to drilling another oil well?). There has undoubtedly been pressure on Terry Pegula over the years to get prices more in line with other markets in the league because season tickets could have easily been considered dirt cheap during the ownership years of Tom Golisano.

Still, several teams have held the line on prices for a year in recent seasons and there's no excuse for the Sabres not to do likewise at least once.

The Boston Bruins kept season ticket prices the same for 2016-17, with the top seat at $155 and the cheapest at $48. But they also undertook a project the Sabres should investigate: Targeting high-volume resellers from outside their immediate area and canceling their accounts so local fans can get a crack at seats.

The number of visiting-team fans in KeyBank Center most nights is reaching epidemic proportions, especially in prime spots in the 100 Level. I hear constantly from season ticket-holders how frustrating it is to deal with interlopers as next-door neighbors. Not just when the Leafs are in town either. It's bad and getting worse when the opponent is the Blackhawks, Red Wings, Penguins and Rangers as well as just about any Canadian team.

The scuttlebutt continues that brokers control a lot of 100 Level seats here. It would be nice to get rid of them. And as much as I wish Sabres fans would stop reselling their seats for profit and attend games to cheer on the team, what reason have they been given of late to do that, either on the ice or off?

Elite teams like Washington, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Nashville offer a wide array of benefits for their season ticket-holders -- and sponsor giveaways throughout the season for all fans the Sabres don't seem to ever care about.

As is seemingly always the case with the Sabres, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Now, it wasn't that infamous 2013 increase on Fan Appreciation Night that former president Ted Black blamed on the Post Office. But to get the invoices in the mail the day after Botterill's press conference -- the day after Pegula was on the podium available to the media to potientially answer a question on it -- comes off as awfully coincidental to these eyes.

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Had folks gotten their invoices earlier in the week, Pegula certainly would have had to answer for gouging his customers again. And now? Pegula said he hoped to not see the media for another 15 years, since you would assume Botterill will handle the announcement of his new coach.

You got the sense Pegula was only half joking even though he's done a pretty decent job at the mic the last couple of weeks.

Along with their invoices, season ticket-holders received a letter from longtime vice president of ticketing John Sinclair that was laughable in spots.

From the letter: "We will again be offering you 2.5 percent of your season ticket purchase back to you in the form of SabreBucks. SabreBucks work the same as cash in the Sabres Store ... allowing you to choose a season ticket holder gift of your choice."

Translation: There are no thank-you gifts for being a prime customer. You get to choose something, essentially with the money you've already given us. That's just downright shady. That's not how teams reward their best customers. But let's not forget this is a team that doesn't think twice about selling slices of pizza at their concession stand for $6.75 a pop.

And let's not forget there are only 40 home games this year instead of 41, with the Sabres "hosting" the Winter Classic in New York. But we'll give you three preseason games at a lower price and throw in a free Amerks game. The Sabres did the Amerks thing last year too and fewer than 3,000 people showed up.

My unfortunate message to season ticket-holders: The Sabres just don't care about you. You either keep paying or move on. And if you stay, hold on to your wallets if this team ever gets good. Serious sticker shock awaits for those playoff games you've waited years for.

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