Two Tickets To Paradise

It’s 35 minutes to game time, and the area around the Providence Civic Center resembles a commodities trading floor. Buyers and sellers barter, and, in most cases, wait each other out. The clock is ticking.

The commodity, is, of course, tickets for the finals of the 2000 NCAA hockey championships.

“I’m willing to go $100 each, but no more than that,” said Sean from Boston. “I need four, and single seats are going for $150.

“I’m going to hold out a little longer. Prices should come down closer to the start of the game.”

Which is often true, but tickets may not be available by then.

So the bartering continues.

The face value of a championship ticket is $40, or $35 for each semifinal. In Rhode Island, a reseller may charge just a 10 percent premium for tickets, and undercover police were out in force on Thursday for the semifinal games, so most people approached for this story were less than willing to talk.

“Get the [expletive] away from me,” said one gentleman when asked if he was buying or selling tickets.

“I’m a reporter, not a cop,” I said.

“Even worse.”

Scalping is a bigger issue this season due to the relatively small size of the Civic Center, which holds about 11,500 for hockey. Last year, the NCAA approved changes that make 15,000 the minimum requirement for future championships.

Last season, 14,447 people attended the finals in Anaheim. 18,276 were at the FleetCenter in Boston in 1998, and 17,537 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee in 1997.

The decision to award Providence the 2000 championship was made in 1996, following the relatively unsuccessful championships in Cincinnati, where the final game had an announced attendance of 12,957, but a lot of empty seats.

After awarding the 1999 finals to Anaheim, a risky though ultimately successful endeavor, the NCAA wanted a slam dunk for the following year, a sure sellout. So they returned to Providence, site of six prior championships.

The general public bought up all the available tickets the day they went on sale, so the only alternative for fans out of luck before this weekend was to buy packages from travel agents (about $450 including three nights in a hotel and game tickets) or look for someone selling tickets via newspaper ads or on the Internet.

Rumors abounded about three-game ticket packages going for $1,500 on Internet auction site eBay, and several buyers and sellers were put together thanks to the U.S. College Hockey Online message board.

“Chippy” McSwain of Boston is an example.

“I found a guy from Maine on the message board willing to sell three sets of tickets for $800,” he said. “So I left work right away and met him in the parking lot of the Cabaret Club up on Route One. I bought the tickets and went back to work. Then I got back on the message board and posted for sale my tickets for the Maine-North Dakota game, which I wasn’t interested in.

“A few minutes later, I found a different guy from Maine willing to buy that set for $200, so I went back up to the Cabaret Club, he came down from Maine, and we did business.”

McSwain made out pretty well. He wound up with three decent seats for both BC games with a face value of $75 for about $200 each.

Also hoping for a happy ending was “Mike,” a player at Division III UMass-Dartmouth. He drove down to Providence by himself, looking for a little magic similar to what happened in 1997 when the finals were at the FleetCenter.

“Some guy gave us tickets for free right before the game started,” he said. “It was like a miracle.”

Saturday night, though, he had cash in his pocket.

“I’m hoping not to pay more than $150,” he said.

Five minutes to game time. Mike is nowhere to be seen, nor are there a lot of tickets still being exchanged. Buyers and sellers have concluded their business.

Time for the real game to begin.