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Celtics sell rights to buy tickets to playoffs

Fans can invest in hope that team will continue winning

Email|Print| Text size + By Binyamin Appelbaum
Globe Staff / January 25, 2008

Celtics playoff tickets! On sale now! (Sort of.)

The Boston Celtics yesterday began selling "reservations" for a limited number of seats at each home playoff game through an online marketplace operated by TicketReserve.com.

Fans can pay an upfront fee for the right to buy up to 8 tickets for each home playoff game. Prices start at $31 for the right to buy one seat at the Celtics' first playoff home game.

The Celtics lead the NBA's Eastern Conference with a gaudy record of 33-7. If the team makes the first round of the playoffs, which seems all but certain, fans holding a reservation are guaranteed the chance to buy a balcony-level seat at face value. The Celtics have not yet set prices for playoff tickets.

The catch is that the Celtics also are selling reservations for games that are less likely to happen. Options on tickets to the NBA Finals, for example, start at $79 - but can only be used if the Celtics make the finals. There are no refunds if the Celtics fall short. Options for tickets to the seventh game of the finals can't be used if the Celtics win in four games.

"This is insurance for diehard fans," said Daniel Lotzof, the president of Chicago-based TicketReserve.com, which has similar deals with about a dozen other NBA teams. "It guarantees them a seat at the big game."

The Celtics, who profit from each transaction, won't say how many seats are available. Once options on every seat are sold for a particular game, fans can resell those options to other bidders on the site.

For example, TicketReserve opened the bidding on reservations for New England Patriots Super Bowl tickets at $124, but resale prices climbed above $2,000 as the season rolled on. Now that the Patriots are in the Super Bowl, fans holding the options can purchase upper-deck seats for the big game at a face value of $700.

The bidding on seat reservations if the Patriots make the 2009 Super Bowl already has reached $580. The Patriots do not have a partnership with the company.

Professional sports teams have long been frustrated by the lucrative ticket resale market, which is controlled by private brokers and websites such as StubHub.com. TicketReserve offers teams a way to profit from that secondary market without selling the same tickets twice.

The teams guarantee to provide the tickets that underlie the options contracts. In exchange, the company shares the proceeds from the initial sale of reservations, and the commissions on resales. TicketReserve declined to disclose revenue or sales figures, but every penny is found money for the team.

Initial prices are set based on perceived demand, which is a combination of the team's chances of making it to a particular playoff game and the fanaticism of its fans. Options on Miami Heat playoff tickets started at $23. The Chicago Bulls, $19. The Atlanta Hawks, $7.

People who choose to sell their reservations will pay a 10 percent commission. Buyers pay 5 percent. In both cases, the minimum commission is $5. A person who sells a Celtics option at $40 would receive $35. The buyer would pay $45. The company and the team would make $10.

The company will move its business to a new website, FirstDibz.com, at the beginning of February.

Binyamin Appelbaum can be reached at bappelbaum@globe.com.

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