No playoff run, sure, but some good news out of Sabres Land

May, 11, 2009

I usually don't pay much attention to these types of news releases, but given the state of the world economy, you can't dismiss them right now.

The Buffalo Sabres on Monday announced a 94 percent season-ticket renewal rate for next season. Understand this: Some teams around the league are holding their breath at season-ticket and corporate sponsorship renewal for 2009-10, and they should because the recession is going to affect many of them. I haven't had time to call around the league (I'm busy with something called the playoffs), but I'm guessing teams such as Florida and Nashville and Atlanta could take a substantial hit in both areas. That's going to hurt leaguewide revenues, which, in turn, likely will drop the salary cap for the 2010-11 season.

Next season's cap will be largely the same as this season's because most revenues were already in the bank this past September before the economic crash.

So, with all that in mind, keep a close eye on announcements such as Monday's from the Sabres. The key is whether the positive announcements outweigh the negative ones. The jury's still out on that one.

But, at least in small-market Buffalo, there's positive news. Sabres fans have proved their loyalty, especially when you factor in the team missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and increasing ticket prices 5 percent.

"It's great," Larry Quinn, managing partner and minority owner of the Sabres, told on Monday. "A 94 percent renewal in the second week in May is as good as we've ever seen here, even in the times when we were going to the conference finals. It shows the strong support for the team, and I think the season-ticket holders really believe they have a good deal. It's great for us."

The Sabres' ticket prices are in the bottom third of the league, where they need to be because of the market size. By puck drop in October, that season-ticket base should be maxed out thanks to about 1,000 people currently on a waiting list for tickets.

"We've got a long waiting list, so we'll tap that," Quinn said. "We should be close to 100 percent going into next season.

"We may even increase our season-ticket base this year because there is expectation that window sales might be softer," he added. "So we may even have more season-ticket holders this fall than we had this past year."

Counting both full-season sales and mini-packs, the Sabres were about 15,000 as a full-season-ticket base this past season. The capacity at HSBC Arena is 18,690. The Sabres ranked 11th in NHL attendance this past season at 18,531. Quinn said that by extending the season-ticket base limit, the Sabres could be close to 16,000 entering next season.

"It's proving something that we tried to do a long time ago," Quinn said. "We've been roundly criticized from a lot of people for keeping our season-ticket price low. We always said, 'Listen, there's going to be the good times and there's going to be some bad times, and we have to be faithful to these people and not gouge them.' I think what you're seeing is people saying they want to stick with us."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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