Throughout my adolescence, hockey was life.
My parents were both die-hard Vancouver Canuck fans. My dad promoted sports memorabilia shows and bought our first home with his collection’s profits. I played the sport competitively until age 16. On road trips to social functions, we listened to Jim Robson and Tom Larscheid. Wherever we were, hockey was there.
In first grade, a classmate announced his dad had purchased Canuck season tickets. Instantly, the man became an icon. Through a six-year-old’s eyes, this meant millions of dollars, bigwig jobs, and weekends on Pavel Bure’s private yacht (no idea if he actually owned one).
Today, I’m 26. I work as a junior lawyer in downtown Vancouver. I still attend Canuck games, but at $100+ per ticket (and a waitlist of several seasons), I’ve generally accepted the fact that I’ll never become a season ticket holder.
Or so I thought.
In January, despite the declarations and ultimatums of disgruntled hockey fans, it was business as usual in Canadian NHL cities. Tickets were selling, jerseys were moving, and excitement was building.
But that wasn’t the case everywhere.
On a slow afternoon at work, I investigated season ticket packages in struggling markets. This activity wasn’t totally abnormal, as I’d previously done so for NFL, NBA and MLB teams in soft markets. In a sense, it’s a procrastinating sports fan’s alternative to Facebook and Twitter.
After some digging, I discovered the Florida Panthers were offering 24 home games, 24 parking passes and a Panthers jersey for $173, taxes in. To put that into perspective, I attended one Canuck game this season for $298.50 (face value) and bought a jersey for $140.
Despite the complete absence of logic, the prospect of becoming a Panthers season ticket holder became an issue of great deliberation. Notwithstanding the fact that (a) it made no sense; (b) I lived 3500 miles away; (c) I didn’t follow the team; (d) I’d be unable to attend a single game; and (e) I’d be flushing $173 down the toilet, there was absolutely no downside whatsoever.
Plus, I’d have a story forever.
Think about it. If I’m ever the subject of a speech or presentation, it’s the perfect anecdote (“interestingly, Jay was once a Florida Panthers season ticket holder”). It’s a conversation starter for life.
After two nights of contemplation, the decision was made.
The next morning, I called the BB&T Centre and placed my order. After extended discussion about the arena’s sight lines (apparently my qualifier of “I don’t live in the country and won’t be attending a single game” didn’t resonate), I selected a seat in section 427, row 11. Interestingly, the sale was conditional upon my assurance that I wouldn’t scalp the tickets on StubHub. At that moment (albeit briefly), I honestly wondered if the tickets were a money-making investment.
Fifteen minutes later, I e-mailed the team and threatened to cancel my season tickets if they didn’t trade Jonathan Huberdeau, Erik Gudbranson and a first-round-pick to Vancouver for Roberto Luongo. Nobody responded, but it was worth a try.
Over the next few weeks, I made similar ultimatums demanding the triumphant returns of Keith Ballard and David Booth in exchange for Nick Bjustad, Rocco Grimaldi, Drew Shore and Quinton Howden.
Hey, if they won’t listen to season ticket holders, who will they listen to?
After a few days (and a narrowly unsuccessful attempt to convince another lawyer to buy season tickets), the harsh reality of my purchase began to set in. As a result, I placed an ad for “free tickets” on Craigslist Miami. Initially, I insisted the tickets were “pickup only – Vancouver, BC”, but quickly realized my humor wasn’t helping. The final ad appears below.
A few days later, I heard from Ray (a self-described “true blue Panthers fan”). After a few pleasant e-mails, I offered my ticket to the home opener. Within seconds, Ray became a Facebook friend and flooded my page with Panthers videos. This seemed hilarious. He must be a great guy.
Then, I checked his profile.
Unlike most Facebook pages, there were no pictures of Ray. There were no personal statuses. There were no photo albums. Instead, there were just hundreds of re-posted amber alerts. In fact, the only original content was Ray’s response to an inquiry about a dog featured in one of the posts (“is that your dog?”).
“No. I’m not allowed to own dogs”.
Seconds later, I deleted Ray from Facebook, ate the tickets, and deliberated calling all Bosley’s/PetCo locations in the Dade County area.
Over the next two months, I received about a dozen ticket inquiries from interested parties, all of whom eventually reneged for various reasons (church, dental work, dog, dental work for dog, “this just seems weird”). In three months, I was able to give away four tickets, three of which were actually used.
To draw a comparison, I used to post ads on Craigslist during UBC exam week. I’d post a friend’s phone number with a description like “free Canuck playoff tickets…don’t want them to go to waste…text or call if interested…if the ad is still up – they haven’t been given away”, then wait for his phone to explode mid-exam.
Clearly, hockey tickets in Florida don’t quite have that appeal.
In mid-February, I received a standard e-mail from Panthers’ President Michael Yormark. The e-mail was polite and thanked season ticket holders for their support. It also included a throwaway line with his e-mail address and phone number.
Naturally, I didn’t think twice.
Within minutes, I’d sent an e-mail stating: (a) I’m a massive Panthers fan; (b) I’ve supported the team since Pavel Bure’s arrival in 1999; (c) I’m a season ticket holder, despite the absurd geographic restraints; (d) I’ve been donating my tickets to local fans; (e) I’m planning on flying to Miami in late April (aligning with the team’s final home game); and (f) if there was anything he could do to make it the best night of my life, I’d appreciate it.
Obviously the e-mail would be ignored, right?
Five days later, Michael responded and offered his personal seats to the Panthers/Leafs game.
An hour later, I booked a flight to Miami, dug up my copy of Big Willie Style, and started the seven week countdown to southern Florida.
On April 25th (alongside a disbelieving co-worker) I caught the red-eye to Miami. After a few hours’ sleep and lunch at the Waffle House, we made the 45 minute trek to Sunrise.
For those unfamiliar, Sunrise is the kind of place you’d expect your grandparents to retire. It’s quiet, the weather is beautiful, the roads are wide and freshly paved, there’s no downtown core or sense of excitement, and there’s a massive outlet mall.
And, there’s a hockey team.
Around 5:00, I arrived at the BB&T Centre and quickly informed the parking attendants I had Michael Yormark’s tickets. Within seconds, several attendants were escorting my 2010 Kia Rio (the cheapest rental car available) to the club’s “VIP Lot”.
I felt like Henry Hill at the Copacabana.
Truth be told, the arena is very nice and features sprawling views of the Sunrise landscape. After picking up my complimentary jersey at guest services, I opted against the David Booth bobble-head ($10 on the team’s clearance rack) and headed up to section 427.
For $7/game, these are solid.
After some obligatory daydreaming, it was time for Club Red and the President’s seats.
In short, Club Red (which includes a price tag of $400/game) is the equivalent of a private celebrity hangout. The massive room features an open bar, private dining area, gourmet chefs, leather couches and countless flat-screen televisions. In terms of an in-stadium experience, it’s first class.
After a surf-and-turf dinner, I took my seat. Located in a sectioned-off area between the blue lines, I had a perfect view of the ice. I even caught a promotional t-shirt, which has never happened at any Canuck game over the past 23 seasons.
In the second period, it was time to hit the ice. Seriously, though. Row one. For the next fifteen minutes, I relentlessly texted everyone in my phone to “turn on the Panthers game…I’m behind the Leafs bench”. Unfortunately for me, the Panthers are not (yet) prominently featured on Pacific Northwest television.
After the game (and a blowout Panthers loss), I bumped into Michael Yormark and thanked him for the tickets. He was extremely approachable, personable, and appeared content discussing the team with fans (interestingly, his twin brother Brett is the CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center). Given the closed-off nature of Canuck upper-management, his demeanor certainly resonated.
From there, it was time for a final lap around the BB&T Centre and a drive to South Beach (in 85 degree weather). In that regard, I finally understood the appeal of the organization and area to pending free agents.
Before returning home, I was able to squeeze in a Marlins/Cubs game (though the lineups resembled Birmingham/Asheville) and a quick trek to Tampa for the Panthers/Lightning season finale (where $70 put me directly behind the Panthers’ bench). At intermission, there were free autographs from Darren Puppa and Chris Kontos. With the right eBay marketing, those should pay off the flights.
So, all told, was it worth it?
Objectively, for $173, a local resident could have attended 24 NHL games (with free parking), seen a 3 Doors Down/Daughtry concert (a mid-season perk), and received a $140 jersey. For sheer entertainment value, it doesn’t get any better.
Of course, for me, the reality was much different.
For $173, the season ticket package: (a) allowed me to become an NHL season ticket holder; (b) provided me a Panthers jersey (which will surely come out at countless unrelated social and sporting events); (c) gave me an excuse to see Miami; (d) afforded me the unparalleled opportunity to sit in an NHL president’s seats; (e) forced me to thoroughly investigate the Panthers’ farm system (convenient, considering Dale Tallon is the only NHL contact Mike Gillis has); (f) offered countless laughs (as “Steeger” left automated voicemails referencing “Huby, Jovy, Marky and Gudy” in a ticket-renewal pitch); and (f) gave me a completely random story I can tell forever.
$173? Well worth it.