by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — If it was an apology fans of the Buffalo Sabres were waiting for, team President Ted Black delivered it Tuesday.
After 276 days without a game and 113 days of stalemated negotiations between the National Hockey League and its players association, Black said the team is sorry fans had to go so long without seeing their favorite team in action on the First Niagara Center ice.
“Certainly the fans are entitled to an apology,” Black said. “And on behalf of the Pegulas and the Sabres, we do apologize to our fans for having to go through this.”
Details of the new collective bargaining agreement are still being released prior to the league’s board of governors and its players each voting on the proposed deal, but it is believed to be a potential 10-year contract.
Black, who said he’ll attend the board meeting in New York City today, said he believes the term is something fans can rally around in preparation for the season. If approved, the longer term deal means if neither side opts out after eight years, another work stoppage couldn’t occur for a decade.
The previous CBA was in effect for eight seasons after the last lockout canceled the 2004-05 season.
What the team won’t be doing, even after so long, is reducing its ticket prices. Black said ticket prices aren’t going up or down this season and the organization will re-examine its variable pricing schedule once the schedule is
“Our ticket prices are set,” he said. “They won’t go up or down. Whenever the schedule come out, then we’ll look at what we’ll do. If we’re not playing west coast teams, we’ll need to re-examine everything.”
The team’s first game is expected to be Saturday, Jan. 19, though Black said the team’s first home game could be the next day.
What hasn’t been an issue despite the work stoppage is season ticket cancelations, Black said. Since the start of the lockout, he said about 30 people have stopped their season ticket orders, with 50 others doing so between the end of last season and the October day the league shut down.
With a waiting list of more than 3,000 names, the team hasn’t experienced the kind of blowback other markets could in the wake of the work stoppage.
“Anytime you have a lockout, you have the potential to lose the paying customer,” Black said. “For us, ticket sales make up 35 percent of our revenue. That’s the largest segment we have coming in. So if you’re going to piss off the fans to the point they’re not going to buy tickets, you’re only shooting yourself. Luckily, our market has a strong fan base.”
Training camp is also up in the air, with players possibly reporting as early as Saturday for physicals. But the players association approval vote could last through the coming weekend, possibly pushing the start of training camp into next week.
The lockout’s effects have been devastating to the local economy, which the team also recognized Tuesday.
General Manager Darcy Regier was sympathetic to the plight of local business owners and employees
“Whether at the local pubs or just the person who cleans the floors, this allows them to get back to work,” Regier said. “The fans in this community have been excited whenever we’ve bumped into them. I’m excited to be back.”