Winter Classic tickets still available -- if you're willing to pay

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Wondering what to do with all that extra money you have from those returned Christmas gifts? Can you take out a second mortgage on your home, too?

Though the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic has been sold out for months, tickets are still available through scalpers and secondary ticket marketplaces.

But they aren't cheap.

The average resale price for a single ticket to the 2011 Winter Classic ticket is $439 on StubHub.com, though at face value ticket prices ranged from $145 to $269. Postings on Craigslist.org are seeking as much as $850 for a single ticket, and listings on eBay.com are as high as $1,250 per ticket.

"Once it goes to the second market, there's nothing you can do," Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. "That's pure capitalism."

The NHL controls ticket distribution for the Winter Classic, but McMillan said the Penguins wanted to ensure each season-ticket holder was offered a chance to buy Winter Classic tickets.

For Penguins home games, the club reserves a portion of tickets for a walk-up crowd in order to grow its fan base. But the team did not have that opportunity for the New Year's Day game.

Washington Capitals season-ticket holders also had the opportunity to buy Winter Classic tickets. Nate Ewell, the Capitals' director of media relations, said he is certain some will sell their tickets for profit.

"That happens all the time," he said. "But ideally, we want 20,000 Caps fans."

The NHL took measures to protect fans against aggressive ticket scalpers. The league distributed the majority of tickets to the Penguins and Capitals, the remaining NHL teams, the Steelers, local youth hockey organizations and NHL corporate sponsors.

The remaining tickets were made available to the public through a lottery system in an effort to limit the number of tickets brokers could access. Those selected by the lottery could purchase a maximum of two tickets.

"We have no control if a Winter Classic ticket holder decides to test the secondary market in terms of pricing, similar to any other major sporting event," NHL vice president for communications Jamey Horan said in an e-mail.

On StubHub, an eBay subsidiary that allows fans to buy and sell tickets online, Winter Classic tickets have sold between $199 and $1,350, said company spokeswoman Joellen Ferrer.

The $439 average sale price is higher than the previous three Winter Classics, though Heinz Field will hold about 30,000 more fans than the past two venues. Most events that move to larger venues experience decreases in ticket resale prices, Ms. Ferrer said.

"It's definitely bucking the trend, which is very interesting from our perspective," she said.

Tickets for the 2010 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park, which sat about 38,000 for the game, sold for an average of $420 on StubHub. That was $68 more than the average ticket at the 2009 Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field, which had about 41,000 in attendance. Tickets for the 2008 Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabers and the Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where about 71,000 people saw the game, sold for an average of $204 on StubHub.

Ms. Ferrer said demand for hockey has steadily increased since the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Phil Rush, 37, of West Mifflin, is testing the market after winning a pair of tickets from 105.9 The X. He and his son were planning to use the tickets until Rush looked on eBay and saw how much money people were spending to buy Winter Classic tickets. He asked his son if he would be interested in selling the tickets and splitting the money.

"It was a no-brainer for him," Rush said of his son, who is saving up to buy a new computer.

Rush said he wanted to go to the game long before he won the tickets but figured it would be impossible to score tickets.

"I didn't have my heart set on it," he said.

Rush listed the two lower-level tickets on Craigslist. He's hoping to fetch $1,400 for the pair, but said if he can't get $800 for them, he and his son will probably go to the game anyway.

Michael Saylor, 44, of Somerset and a Penguins season-ticket holder for the past six seasons, has been offered $800 for a pair of Winter Classic tickets he bought for about $300. But he said there is no way he would sell his tickets.

"This is the chance of a lifetime," Saylor said. "This might never come back."

Fellow season-ticket holder Brandon Elliott, 27, of Vandergrift, said he was offered $600 for his pair of tickets, but, having attended the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, he said he would not give them up.

"I just knew I had to go," Elliott said. "It was a fun time up there, and I'm sure it will be even better to be at home."

Penguins fan Jeff Hinchberger, 50, of Sarver, said the entire event has turned into an unflattering money-grab. He said he would not buy tickets for the $145 face value, let alone spend several hundreds of dollars on the secondary market.

"Way too much for peanut heaven seats," he said. "I'd rather stand out in the parking lot and listen to it on the radio."


Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.


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