The bottom line: Game 5 tomorrow is million-dollar baby
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There was a time in the Penguins' past -- actually there were many, many times -- when the occupants of the owner's box might have been required to put on a bit of an act after a playoff game defeat. Outwardly, the owner or owners would be somber and dejected. On the inside, their hearts would be pounding wildly with joy.
There is, you see, an upside to losing in the playoffs, and the Penguins are experiencing that today. Any playoff game has the potential to be a financial bonanza. When extra ones come along, like the one the Penguins play tomorrow at Mellon Arena against the New York Rangers, well, that's sort of like finding money on the street.
If the Penguins had eliminated the Rangers in four games, which they had the chance to do Thursday in New York, there wouldn't be a fifth game. Which means close to $2 million would slip out of the team's grasp.
This isn't to suggest the team was secretly hoping for a defeat in the fourth game. This happens to be one of the few times in the Penguins checkered financial history when ownership does not have to be secretly hoping for an extension of a playoff series. Many times in the past, when bankruptcy loomed or when Howard Baldwin was spending more money than he had, these extra playoff games were vital to the team's future.
That's not the case today. The Penguins are on sound financial footing. The conventional wisdom of the day -- that money is in short supply, particularly for nonessentials -- was debunked when the team sold out every regular-season game while charging a handsome sum for tickets and sold them out again at higher prices for the playoffs. Beyond that, in billionaire Ron Burkle, the Penguins have one of the wealthiest owners in sports and by far the wealthiest in Pittsburgh.
Still, the defeat has its upside, and not just for the team.
The more than 17,000 tickets for the game tomorrow, all of which are sold, range in list price from $175 to $75. That's a bit misleading because there's a steep reduction for fans purchasing a playoff package, as most attending do. For those buyers, the prices range from $117 to $48. There's also a limited number of Igloo tickets, long sold, that can be had for as little as $180.
If the average ticket price for a second-round playoff game is, say, $90, that comes to $1.54 million in gross receipts on tickets. There's also a small fortune to be made in concessions. The Penguins don't get all of this money, but they get most of it.
That's on top of the revenue they generated in the four previous home games. Considering the ease with which the Penguins handled Ottawa in the first round, wonder if certain people weren't hoping for a couple of lucky goals for the Senators in the fourth game at Ottawa, which would have necessitated a fifth game at Mellon Arena.
And we're not talking about Burkle or team chairman Mario Lemieux. We're talking about the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County elected officials whose interest in seeing the Penguins win is exceeded only by their desire to see them play as many home games as possible.
If the Penguins are grossing $1.5 million per game on tickets -- and the prices go up for subsequent rounds -- that means the city gets 5 percent of that in amusement tax. Five percent of $1.5 million is $75,000. That means after today the city will have realized almost $400,000 from these playoff games. That's also like finding money in the street, particularly since the city, although doing better these days, is not far removed from financial insolvency.
You could see where Mayor Luke Ravenstahl might have a vested interest in seeing these series go seven games -- so long as the Penguins win. You have to think Ravenstahl was one happy guy when the Penguins lost to the Rangers.
County executive Dan Onorato is getting his share, too. He can't be upset by these extra games. Ten percent of every beer sold goes toward the recently levied drink tax -- or, as some restaurants label it on the bill, the Onorato tax.
This fifth game is a payday for everyone, not just the team.
Subsequent rounds, should the Penguins advance, promise more money. In the conference final, the wholesale ticket prices range from $57 to $215. For the Stanley Cup finals, it's $77 to $290.
Good luck Penguins! Keep on winning, but don't be afraid to throw in a loss or two.
First Published May 3, 2008 12:00 am