Niagara Gazette

April 25, 2006

Sabres' playoff passion

BY Tim Schmitt

BUFFALO — Top row, bottom row, doesn’t matter; Jessica LaPoint is in the game.

LaPoint, a North Tonawanda native, sat with her sister Katie and friend Erin Dotterweich in the last row of HSBC Arena for Game 2 of the Buffalo Sabres first round playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.

For LaPoint, this hockey stuff is serious business, the 28-year-old school teacher cut her Florida vacation short to get home for Game 1 on Saturday. She’s even named her cat “Sabre.”

“I’m obsessed,” she admits. “When I lived in Virginia my license plates said ‘Iluvsabres’ and now that I’ve moved home they say ‘puck it.’ I’m not a little obsessed, I’m a lot.”

LaPoint isn’t alone in her passion. As the games get more important and the tickets climb sharply in price — aside from those bought by season ticket holders — the breed of fan changes.

Through the season, the Sabres used innovative ticket pricing to keep the game affordable for everyone. For example, tickets for LaPoint’s seats on March 22 against then-conference leading Carolina were $17.

Her ticket for Monday’s game was $60.

But still, Sabres playoff tickets — like those during the regular season — are among the lowest in the league.

The team used another clever marketing maneuver prior to the team’s first playoff appearance in four years — allowing those who purchased season tickets for next year to get reduced tickets for this year’s playoffs.

Lockport’s Paul Antonio took the hook.

He bought three tickets for the playoffs so he can take his 6-year-old son, Cameron, and his wife Karen to all the games.

“What it boils down to is $39 a game to be in the 100 level,” Antonio said. “We hadn’t considered season tickets before. But when you factor in the playoffs, because you expect to spend about $100 a ticket then, we deducted those dollars and figure it’s like thirty bucks a game for next year. The way I figured it, I expected to pay $100 for one ticket, now it’s $100 for the three of us.”

Mike Gilbert, the team’s vice president of communications, said the Sabres got more than 1,500 new season tickets from the promotion.

But like anything, Gilbert added that the pricing strategies’ best weapon was a successful team.

“When we came out with the variable pricing, we thought it might work, but we weren’t sure,” he said. “But the play of the team helped tremendously. People want to come and see a winner.”

Starpoint grad Scott Kopec said fans not only like to come out and see a good product, they like to crank up the volume, too.

“It was five times louder than a normal game the other night,” Kopec said. “Everyone was amped up for the first playoff game in five years. The fans that come to playoff games know it’s do or die. You could see the difference when you walked in the arena. The people were chanting already. It’s not like that during the regular season.”

LaPoint agreed.

“It’s the playoffs. I can’t describe it,” she said. “Everything’s on the line. You want them to play until it’s June and it’s hot out. You want to come to the arena wearing your jersey and your shorts.”

Contact Tim Schmitt at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2266.