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A full-court press for Celtics tickets

Lines are long, prices high for championship series

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 3, 2008

They slept on garbage bags, flew in from Mexico, and played cards to pass the time. Like pilgrims for the Green, they came by the thousands and waited outside TD Banknorth Garden, hoping to acquire highly coveted tickets to Thursday's championship opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Then there were VIPs like Julie Kahn sitting in her office flush with tickets. Her biggest difficulty: deciding which of the dozens of supplicants flooding her inbox she will have to disappoint.

"I'm hearing from people I haven't heard from in a decade," said Kahn, vice president and New England market manager for Entercom, which broadcasts Celtics games and has 27 tickets to distribute. "It's crazy. Even my spouse is begging. . . . I've gotten about 70 e-mails. We could probably make more money selling the tickets than selling advertising."

Tickets for a basketball team that for two decades barely registered with Boston's newly success-saturated fans are now all but priceless. Tickets are selling online for thousands of dollars, but monetary figures disguise the scrum for tickets around town.

"Tickets for this year's NBA Finals have already sold more than double that of the entire series last year," said Sean Pate, a spokesman for StubHub, adding that the average price for tickets for this year's series was selling at $262 more than last year's San Antonio Spurs-Cleveland Cavaliers championship.

George Regan, president of Regan Communications, said he has spent the past few days fielding calls from clients, politicians, judges, and others looking for a ticket.

After he rebuffed the owner of Newbury Street's Ciao Bella restaurant, Regan's assistant told him the restaurateur said he was taking the publicist's favorite hot dog dish off the menu.

"I'm not Ticketron," said Regan, who represents the Celtics and has four tickets to each home game in the Finals. "I've gotten calls from a Chicago congressman and members of the judiciary, but the only one I'm taking care of is my mother."

Roger Berkowitz, the owner of Legal Sea Foods, which spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on advertising in the Garden, had four season tickets but gave up two of them before the playoffs.

"My assistant is reminding me of my stupidity," Berkowitz said, noting the rising demand for the tickets on his staff. "I've gotten calls from different departments in the company that are trying to sway me that they would bring certain people that would be advantageous to the company. I'm not sure I believe them. We may be doing lottery tickets. More than likely, I won't go, unless I get an invitation."

The bazaar for tickets has moved into Nebo, an Italian restaurant across the street from the Garden owned by Carla Pallotta, the sister of one of the Celtics' owners. She has watched as fans in the restaurant have sold $1,000 tickets for $3,000.

She has access to eight seats - four of them on the floor, next to the bench - but she may not go to the game because business is too busy. "To watch all of this is insane, but it's good for us," Pallotta said.

For those without connections, there were some bitter disappointments. Stephen Souther sat in a chair at the front of the line outside the Garden, and the bleary-eyed 18-year-old from Weymouth who had been waiting for nearly 24 hours was seething.

After a windy night outside the Garden, he learned that there would be a random drawing for tickets, and that his place in a line that stretched nearly to Charlestown was meaningless.

"It's outrageous - really unfair that it's not first-come, first-served," Souther said. "I've followed the Celtics my whole life. I'm a huge fan, gone to all the playoff games, followed them when they were horrible, and someone who gets the luck of the draw who doesn't really care about the Celtics gets to go?"

John Wentzell, president of the Garden, said his staff publicized the lottery for the 1,200 tickets, which sold for $30 and up.

"We had signs posted outside the Garden, on our doors and box-office windows, telling everyone that random numbers would be called," he said. "It's really a policy built to the average fan. Not a lot of people can camp out for two days. It's something we highly discourage."

Shawn Sullivan, the Celtics vice president of ticket sales, said that while the Garden has capacity for 18,624 people, the vast majority of tickets went to season ticket holders, sponsors, the National Basketball Association, TV networks, and the visiting team.

"We hold in-house inventory to take care of special requests. All of the VIP seats are paid for, unless approved by ownership," said Sullivan, who declined through a team spokeswoman to name any of the VIPs.

A spokesman for Governor Deval Patrick said the governor will attend the game with Doug Rubin, his chief of staff, whose family has season tickets. A spokesman for House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said the speaker will watch the game at home.

Others with access to tickets aren't going, either. Mike Sheehan, chief executive of Hill Holliday has a suite - with a buffet - and seven tickets, but he has opted not to go to the game. It starts too late, he said, and he would rather be home with his 2-year-old.

Twenty-one years ago, the last time the Celtics were playing in the NBA Finals, he said he asked a security guard to help him sneak into the game. "Being in there was unbelievable," he said of the series, "but now I have a family."

But some will not have the option.

"As you can imagine the demand for the Finals is beyond what we could have imagined and this goes for the VIP requests as well," Sullivan wrote in an e-mail. "We have not finalized which VIPs will be able to buy tickets, but there will not be enough inventory to accommodate all of the demand."

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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