BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo Sabres are tied for last place in the MassMutual East Division. The world is in the middle of a pandemic. Anyone attending a game at KeyBank Center when the team welcomes fans back on March 20th will have to pass a COVID-19 test. Yet, Buffalo State sports marketing professor Jeff Ventura doesn’t think the team will have trouble selling tickets.
“I think we’re all craving some normalcy and a night out,” said Ventura. “I suppose, what’s more normal than going downtown and watching the Sabres lose?”
“There’s a fragmented fan base, but I think the allure of the night out is certainly an attractive prospect for fans,” he added.
The team announced Thursday that they will begin hosting fans for “select” games, beginning with that March 20th game against the Boston Bruins. It’s unknown how many home games the team will play in front of fans. Pursuant to public health rules, any fan with a ticket will have to prove they passed a COVID test no more than 72 hours before the game.
Sabres Head Coach Ralph Krueger, who the team announced tested positive for the coronavirus on February 4th, said any fans in the arena would be a bonus. But it’s not something he’s thinking about right now.
“I’m not even going to think about it until it actually happens, because I’ve seen in this almost one year of COVID existence now that you cannot plan concretely with anything day-to-day,” Krueger said.
“Let’s just hope it actually happens. But we’re still almost a month from that,” he added.
Six NHL teams are currently playing home games in front of fans, including the New York Rangers, who will play their first home game with fans on Friday night. Seven others, including the Sabres, will begin doing so in March.
“From a marketing standpoint and fan cultivation standpoint, the longer your fan base is away, as other things start to open up, you’re in competition with other things,” Ventura said. “So you want to bring people back as quickly as you can.”
Ventura believes there’s a reason the Sabres announced tickets would only be available for “select” games.
“Logistically on their end, I think they kind of want to float it out as a trial basis,” he said. “I’m sure they would like fans in the seats, as many as possible, as often as possible to start gaining back some of that revenue. But perhaps they’re unsure of exactly what the market is.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.