Astute readers — and really, does Pittsburgh Hockey Now attract any other kind? — probably have digested the information Dan Kingerski put forth the past two days. laying out his picks for the best and worst cities for Pittsburgh Penguins fans to visit.
More than a few of those folks probably have made a trek or two to Buffalo to watch a Penguins game there, since it’s a relatively quick and easy drive.
Nonetheless, Buffalo got a spot on the “worst” list, so perhaps plans to visit to the Niagara Frontier should be reconsidered, despite his kind words for the area’s celebrated chicken wings and proximity to Pittsburgh.
And not only because Kingerski panned the winter weather and the city’s weak pulse downtown.
It turns out that the Sabres have devised a plan intended to drastically reduce, if not eliminate, early ticket sales to the fans of other clubs. Not only do Penguins followers swarm KeyBank Arena when their team plays there, but followers of Toronto, Montreal, Detroit and the New York Rangers do likewise.
While it certainly has echoes of the scheme Washington once put in place in an effort to reduce the loud and large contingent of Pittsburgh Penguins partisans at the Verizon Center — perhaps the Capitals should have taken on a project with a better chance of success, like holding back the ocean with a tennis racquet — there are a few differences.
Washington’s approach was to block sales to fans with area codes or zip codes in Western Pennsylvania; the Sabres simply will offer tickets to fans from Buffalo and its environs before making them available to prospective buyers in other markets.
“Obviously, last year there were a handful of games where we saw the wrong color blue or the wrong color red coming into the building, depending on the jersey we were wearing,” Frank Batres-Landaeta, the Sabres’ vice president of sales and service, told The Buffalo News. “It’s something that we’ve been talking about and discussing and trying to figure out: How do we get tickets in the hands of Buffalo fans?”
With that objective, the course of action on which the team settled was quite logical.
“There will be a presale for Buffalo-area fans within our database to go in and purchase tickets before any other fans outside of our dedicated marketing area will get access,” Batres-Landaeta told the newspaper. “We’re hopeful this experiment will work.”
Seats at KeyBank Center haven’t been terribly tough for people from anywhere to come by for a long time, mostly because the Sabres haven’t qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2011 or won a postseason round since 2007.
Buffalo averaged just 15,567 fans per game, which works out to 82 percent of capacity, last season.
The franchise clearly is on an upward trajectory, however, and the Sabres’ lineup is studded with outstanding young talents like Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, so there’s every reason to think that the league-high 55.7 percent bump in attendance Buffalo enjoyed in 2022-23 will continue.
The passion of the fan base there has been evident since the Sabres were based in Memorial Auditorium, and there’s every reason to think that will translate to sales that improve in tandem with the on-ice product.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will make their lone visit to Buffalo during the coming season on Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving.
That would seem to be a situation — an attractive opponent, on a post-holiday Friday when a lot of people will have the day off — that should translate to a sellout for the Sabres.
The only question might be how many of the people in the seats will have made the trip up from Western Pennsylvania.