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Bruins tickets will cost fans top dollar

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / June 13, 2011

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From balcony seats at TD Garden, even 6-foot-9-inch Bruins captain Zdeno Chara appears miniaturized. The Jumbotron offers the best views, sometimes the only hope for tracking the puck way, way below. These are the cheap seats for a reason. At least they were until the Stanley Cup Final came to town and sent ticket prices soaring.

Over the weekend, the cost of balcony seats for tonight’s Game 6 against the Vancouver Canucks ranged from $400 to a couple of thousand dollars apiece as the secondary ticket market reacted to supply, demand, and fan passion. During the regular season, balcony seats sold by the Bruins start at $37.50, loge seats at $100.50, and front row glass seats at $251.50.

“I paid an arm and a leg — $480 per seat before service charges,’’ said Matthew Lang of Abington, a lifelong Bruins fan who purchased a pair of seats through a ticket broker. “We’re in the balcony in one of the last rows, but I don’t care. I’m in the building. To me, it’s worth it. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’’

With a 21-year gap between Stanley Cup Final appearances for the Bruins, and a 39-year championship drought, such rationale is common among big-spending fans of the Black and Gold. Asking prices on the secondary ticket market reached astounding highs — as much as $1,831 being asked for standing-room-only space, $3,500 for balcony tickets, and $5,000 for luxury suite seats — when Game 6 loomed as a potential Cup clincher for the Bruins. After the Bruins lost Game 5 Friday night in Vancouver, eliminating the possibility of a Cup-clinching win in Boston, the Game 6 market bottomed out, then started rebounding yesterday afternoon.

“The first time your team goes to a championship after a long drought is really when things hit peak,’’ said Jim Holzman, chief executive of Ace Ticket. “I think a lot of people that were scared off when the lowest prices were around $1,000 are coming back.’’

When asked how demand and prices compared with numbers posted by the Celtics, who filled the Garden for the 2008 NBA Finals after a 21-year championship series absence, Holzman said NHL business has been “even bigger, which is shocking.’’ By bigger, Holzman meant the price to enter those least-expensive balcony seats available on the secondary market.

For the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals featuring the Celtics and Lakers, seats at the Garden ranged from $300 to $10,000 on the secondary market, according to tracking by Ace Ticket. Most tickets to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final have fallen within a $400 to $6,000 range. Comparisons with the Red Sox appearances in the 2004 and 2007 World Series are not as meaningful because Fenway Park is a different venue, though prices ranged from $1,000 to $10,000 in 2004 and $550 to $5,000 in 2007.

“It seems like a lot of money, but that’s the value of live events still,’’ said Amy Latimer, the Bruins’ senior vice president of sales and marketing. “People want to witness it. People want to tell their children and grandchildren they were at Game 6. It’s hard to place a value on that emotional connection.’’

Headline-making, head-scratching prices make it even more difficult. Ace Ticket requested $34,500 for a courtside seat for Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Online ticket marketplace StubHub priced four front row loge glass seats for tonight’s Game 6 at $9,156.

Those are list prices, not always what buyers pay. Throughout the course of sales for Game 6, fans have paid an average price of $1,159 per ticket on the StubHub site, underscoring how eye-popping prices can be deceiving. Through Ace Ticket, the average price for a Game 6 seat has been $950. The most expensive tickets purchased on StubHub have been two center ice glass seats for $5,999 each. The most expensive tickets sold by Ace Ticket cost $3,950 for the same type of seat.

In the secondary ticket market, brokers such as Boston-based Ace Ticket typically purchase tickets from individual ticket-holders at above face value and resell them for even more. During the playoffs, brokers take bigger risks in the hope of bigger payoffs, scooping up tickets at sometimes shocking markups.

When Game 6 still loomed as a potential Cup-clincher for the Bruins, Ace Ticket was spending $1,000 for any ticket, betting the market would hit $1,700 for a balcony seat. The seats in question were selling for $525 Saturday and $625 yesterday. Still, debate rages about whether brokers push prices skyward or simply respond to demand for hard-to-find tickets.

“We’re willing to pay 90 percent of what we think the seat is going to sell for because it’s so hard to get tickets,’’ said Holzman, a Bruins fan since childhood who will be sitting in a $3,000 center ice loge seat for Game 6. “People have not wanted to sell their seats to the Stanley Cup Final. They wanted to be there for this. Unless you paid top dollar, people were not going to sell them to you.’’

Fans try to time their purchases for the best deal, though there are few, if any, true deals for Bruins fans as Game 6 approaches. Last night, the least expensive balcony seats were in the $400 range. Center ice loge seats were starting at close to $2,000.

Upon hearing the prices, Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said, “Wow, I’m glad I don’t have any family coming for this game.’’

With two deeply passionate, title-starved fan bases, this year’s Cup Final has produced better numbers on the secondary market than the NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. On average, tickets were selling for more than $1,000 for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final vs. $675 for last night’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Miami, according to tracking by StubHub.

Last year, tickets for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers sold, on average, for $681. In 2009, for Game 6 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, the number was $655.

“Until a couple years ago, demand for the NBA Finals well outpaced its NHL counterpart,’’ said StubHub spokeswoman Joellen Ferrer. “However, demand has quickly caught up and this year prices are significantly higher for the Stanley Cup Final. Much of this is due to the fact that fewer hockey fans have been willing to sell their tickets, which has limited supply.’’

Boston fans also can blame Canada. Before the puck drops tonight, Ferrer expects Canadians will have purchased 35 percent of the Game 6 tickets available on the secondary market. It is an unusually high number, even when taking into account the prospect of a Cup win by the Canucks. By comparison, Dallas fans snatched up fewer than 10 percent of secondary market tickets for a potential NBA title-clinching Game 6 last night.

The Bruins presold their playoff tickets to season-ticket holders in March. Then, after satisfying season ticket-holders, premium clients, and the league, the team sold its remaining tickets — 1,000 each for Stanley Cup Final Games 3, 4, and 6 — on May 31 at set prices ranging from $325 for balcony seats to $850 for front-row glass seats. Latimer understands why those tickets might find their way onto the secondary market at high prices.

“I’ve always contended that we’re a hockey town,’’ said Latimer. “And there’s no better live event to see than the Stanley Cup Final. Supply and demand on the secondary market are gauging that.’’

Thinking about buying tickets if the series goes to a deciding Game 7 in Vancouver? Buyer beware. Prices already are climbing in anticipation of the Final going the distance. Expect to spend at least a couple thousand dollars for the cheap seats.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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