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CA • United States • 2009 Years Old • Male
Steve Willamson is my newest hockey hero.

The Orlando-based Tampa Bay Lightning fan completed every hockey fan's dream last winter, visiting all 30 NHL arenas in 30 nights.

Including Mellon Arena in Pittsbugh.

Why is that significant, you ask? It appears Williamson is not welcome in Mellon Arena. Neither are residents of New England, the South, the West, or much of the Midwest. Visiting from Canada? Forget about it.

Yes, geographic discrimination is alive and well in Steeltown. You see, when the Penguins put tickets on sale at the start of the season, the following appeared on Tickemaster's website when you clicked on any given game.

"Mellon Arena is located in Pittsburgh, PA. Sales to this event will be restricted to residents of PA, OH, WV, MD, NY, NJ, DE, VA and the District of Columbia. Residency will be based on credit card billing address. Orders by residents outside of PA, OH, WV, MD, NY, NJ, DE, VA and the District of Columbia will be canceled without notice and refunds given."

In other words, forget about road trips for visiting fans. That is, unless you're a hometown fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, the New Jersey Devils, the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, the Buffalo Sabres, a Washington Capitals fan who lives in any D.C. suburb -- but not the city itself, or a Detroit Red Wings fan residing a few miles south of the city in Toledo.

Illogical? Yes. Unethical? Yes.

The policy did not come to light until an AOL blog pointed out the policy was in place for the Stanley Cup Finals. Several Penguins fans pointed out the policy was in place all season long, which makes it even worse.

Traveling to road games has long been a part of being a hockey fan. Most die-hard fans have great memories of road games -- they are a place to meet fellow fans from your team in a unique setting, a place to meet fans from other teams, and a place to show your overall hockey support.

Not in Pittsburgh. Yes, I know tickets are hard to get -- there is a season ticket waiting list and single-game tickets sell quickly. Yet tickets are still a lot harder to get in Toronto, and the Maple Leafs are far too classy to institute such a policy. Same goes for Montreal, or Detroit during the late 1990s.

This is not the first time this has happened. Ironically, Pittsburgh fans were up in arms when Washington restricted ticket sales to everyone but people from Pennsylvania in the 2001 playoffs. Those same fans need to speak up in this case. Anything less would be hypocritical.

In 2002, the Carolina Hurricanes limited ticket sales to fans in the mid-Atlantic states. Interestingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the opponent in that year's Stanley Cup Finals as well.

The Hockey Gods have a sense of fairness. In both of those cases, the team employing geographic discrimination lost.

And it is not like Pittsburgh has always been a tough ticket. Just two years ago, this team appeared on the verge of bankruptcy -- and perhaps on the verge of heading to Hamilton. Jim Balsillie attempted to purchase the struggling team, a team that failed to fill a smallish, dated arena despite the presence of Sidney Crosby, and many speculate he would have moved the team north to Ontario.

Eventually, a new arena was approved, and the team stayed in Pittsburgh. The crowds increased, season ticket sales were capped, and the Penguins were the hottest thing since the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

Now, the success has gone to their heads. Or perhaps, they remember the many years when the Penguins struggled to draw fans. From their entry in the league in 1967 until Mario Lemieux was drafted in 1984, empty seats were common at the Igloo. When Lemieux retired for the first time in the 1990s, the same thing happened. And it happened again in the early 2000s as the team struggled with mediocrity.

During those times, it was common for visiting fans to take over the Igloo in large numbers, as tickets were easy to get. So perhaps the policy is not just one of arrogance, but also one of insecurity, as the Penguins recall what it is like to be the road team in their own arena.

As a fan who someday hopes to visit all 30 NHL arenas, as well as all junior and minor league arenas, policies like this are infuriating. If this catches on, going to road games will be a thing of the past. So will going to a game as a neutral fan when you are visiting a city on vacation or a business trip.

The NHL needs to act quick and forbid teams from discriminatory policies such as this one. In the meantime, the answer is simple. Every other NHL team needs to put the address of every city, suburb, and municipality within the greater Pittsburgh area in their Ticketmaster database and forbid sales to fans from those cities.

Perhaps then, those Penguins fans would complain to their own team and get the policy changed. After all, it is absurd the Penguins can shut out fans from other teams, yet Penguins fans can still buy road tickets.

In a perfect world, geographic discrimination would never exist on ticket sales. But until that happens, the other 29 teams might have to act in order to force change.

FINAL THOUGHT/BAD PUN OF THE DAY: It will be interesting to see if Johan Franzen comes out especially fired up in game three after Gary Roberts' cheap shot to the head of a player returning from concussion-like symptoms.

If so, to borrow a line from an upcoming Adam Sandler movie.... you don't mess with the Johan.
Filed Under:   tickets   Stanley Cup   Red Wings   Penguins   NHL  
May 29, 2008 2:47 AM ET | Delete
Hmmm...the Caps(owned by Ted Leonsis) receive terrible backlash for trying this years ago, and now the Pens doing it is being criticized on an AOL(pretty much owned by Ted Leonsis)blog...ironic. It's not like fans can't get those tickets dozens of other ways, but it is a practice that should be stopped by the NHL honestly.And on a humorous note, your idea of other teams doing this wouldn't affect me too much honestly. I'm a Pens fan in NY who attends most Pitt. games in NJ. They can't fill their new arena selling to all geographic areas...doubt they'll agree to banning anyone who wants to buy a ticket, especially the 1,000 Pens fans who regularly show up there.
May 29, 2008 9:34 AM ET | Delete
It is to try and stop ticket agents from all over the US from buying up all the seats and selling them. It has nothing to do with not wanting Red Wings fans there. You could easily just buy tickets on ebay, if you were from out of those areas.
May 29, 2008 9:40 AM ET | Delete
It will be interesting to see how ticket sales are handled for the 2008-2009 season when Pittsburgh and Ottawa open up in Sweden (why them instead of all the Swedes on Detroit in a mystery) because discriminatory ticket sales are not permitted in Europe, although reasonable quotas can be set up.The European Union has had the European Commission investigate discriminatory ticket sales to sporting events and they have issued recommendations, although I haven't checked to see if any Directives (which are binding) have yet been issued.These problems of not selling tickets to fans of opposing teams have occurred in soccer, but the EC says this policy can't be condoned unless there are compelling reasons to fear fan safety or violence (so in hockey that might mean the Habs shouldn't sell tickets to Habs fans during the playoffs:)). Further, before such limitations could be justified other less restrictive means, such as putting competing fans into different sections of the stadium would have to be first instituted (isn't that how we do it in college sports here?).Additionally, the EC is cracking down on sports monopoly ticket sales to selected ticket agents or travel agents as the only source for game tickets, especially when those tickets can only be procured as part of a travel "package," or when deposits for tickets are taken in advance and complete refunds are not issued to those who don't get a ticket (so-called "administration fees" are not permitted). And despite what the ads over here say regarding VISA as the "only" credit card that can be used to purchase Olympic tickets (perhaps limited to an exclusive deal in the US), the EC told the OC they had to accept MasterCard as well at some of the events in Athens during the last summer Olympics.This is really a big issue that needs to be addressed by the NHL - and stopped - and your points are well taken. I was planning on attending some other venues next season and it never dawned on me that I might not be able to get a ticket - in the United States - to attend a sporting event - in the United States.While I was aware that some venues charge more per single ticket when the Red Wings are in town, I wasn't aware that my freedom to travel and enter places of public accommodation were limited as well.
May 29, 2008 11:48 AM ET | Delete
I love it. With the numerous ticket web sites, you can still get tickets to road games. To deter the ticket brokers is a good thing. As long as the demand is there, the home fans should get all the tickets. If you're a Pens fan elsewhere, be resourceful; you'll get a ticket. Would last night's atmosphere have been the same if half the crowd were Detroit fans? I completely understand doing it in the playoffs. The regular season, well, again, if the demand is there, and you can sell out without visiting fans, fine with me.
May 29, 2008 1:43 PM ET | Delete
It is an erroneous conclusion that limiting ticket sales to only residents from particular geographic areas deters ticket brokers and scalpers. In fact, just the opposite, especially during playoffs. In practice, the best way to equalize playoff prices for fans of both teams is to simply have a lottery for the released tickets, beyond the season ticket holder first dibs, NHL giveaways, player allotments, etc. I kind of remember that when I was attending a Big 10 college and decided to take the trip to the Rose Bowl to cheer on the team that ticket allotments to students for each university were divided equally. And no, they weren't cheap. But, both teams have a stake in a championship game. Ditto for the Stanley Cup. While it is certainly easier to provide an almost exclusive home town audience with geographically distant teams like Anaheim/Ottawa as opposed to Detroit/Pitt only 400 miles apart, those who do want to attend - in either city - should not be automatically excluded from the pool of potential purchasers of available tickets. And, in fact, I'm sure the tourism bureau in Pittsburgh would much rather sales be permitted to out-of-towners as they tend to spend considerably more money in the host city than the locals do.
May 29, 2008 4:17 PM ET | Delete
The problem with the lottery system is that not all available tickets are released at the same time. Tickets become available for various reasons right up to the time they drop the puck. Case in point, I have a co-worker who got 2 through TicketMaster for last night's Game 3 at 11:00 a.m. on game day. The perception is that there is a finite and discrete pool of available tickets and that they can be divied up at one time. That is false. And, it's not like they can't sell out the building without the help of the visiting fans (which was the case in Washington when Leonsis tried it, and he decided he'd rather have the cash, than a completely loyal crowd)My advice to Wings fans from other regions is to just come to Pittburgh. I know it's rolling the dice a little, but any ticket available on-line is also available at the box office. If you are unlucky enough to get shut out at the box office, wait until 5 minutes into the 1st period and you will find the scalpers more than eager to "negotiate".I can't believe I just told Wings fans how to get tickets. Is there any way to block my post from view if you aren't at a computer in PA, WV, OH,...WJ- just another xenophobic Pittsburgher
May 29, 2008 7:12 PM ET | Delete
Hopefully this works this time... Anne Heir, I agree entirely with everything you say! It is clear you're a true fan, one who has traveled to road games and understands how frustrating a discriminatory policy can be.... I don't understand how this deters brokers. Most on-street brokers are local anyway, and the rest are in a nationwide network (most broker shops work off the same database). By banning sales in 43 states, the brokers in the network in the other seven will just empoly more people to get the same number of tickets -- it makes no difference. I don't think anyone really believes this is about brokers, it's about limiting visiting fans, plain and simple. And besides, all this does is drive up demand from brokers -- those who do not live in that seven-state region have no choice but to use a broker in this case... To those who support this policy -- do you ever travel to road games? Do you plan your vacations around hockey? If so, how do you deal with policies like this if you come across them (although I don't think it happens anywhere but Pittsburgh on a regular basis, thankfully!).
May 30, 2008 9:11 AM ET | Delete
I'm just a believer in the home crowd. Yes, it's nice to be able to travel to watch your team elsewhere. There are 41 regular season road games. Of course seeing a playoff game is much better, but if your team has a potential 3 or 4 home playoff games each round, and the demand is there from your fan base, don't you think the home players prefer to play in front of their fans? What's next grapes? Some liberal policy that there has to be an equal 50/50 split of fans for every game? And like everyone has said so far anyway...there are numerous ways to get tickets, even with this "discrimination". Besides, it's bad enough playoff tickets prices skyrocket; what happens when, say, 5000 tickets are allotted to the road team? That's 5000 less for the home fans. Supply shrinks, and home and road fans continued to be priced out of tickets. So fine, exluded as many home fans as possible, just so you can have it "fair".
May 30, 2008 6:23 PM ET | Delete
Actually, I don't want a 50/50 allotment, and certainly not 5,000. In fact, it is policies like this that will lead the league to force allotments for visiting fans, and I do not want to see that happen. Unlike, say the Premiership (soccer) in England, the tickets have always been available to all people, regardless of support. And I want to see it stay that way. But, if teams start shutting out visiting or neutral fans, then I suspect we will see allotments.The whole issue is, nothing is wrong with the way it's been done for years. But start changing things, and it may be nobody likes where it goes.
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