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Wings fans face price hikes in new arena

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Thousands of Detroit Red Wings season ticket holders are beginning to discover how much more it will cost to move into Little Caesars Arena, scheduled to open for the 2017-18 NHL season.

Details presented to the customers at meetings that began late last month and will extend into the summer reveal that the lower bowl of the new arena will sweep back and up from the ice at almost precisely the same angle as the lower bowl of Joe Louis Arena, affording much the same sight lines.

Next season, the last for the Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena, those tickets will cost mostly $92-$120, up from $90-$109 last season.

In Little Caesars Arena, lower bowl tickets not in the center ice area will cost $100-$130. The center ice lower bowl tickets will be classified as the premium club area and tickets will cost from $240-$330.

Some fans can afford the new seats. Others have complaints.

Joe Pirronello of Westland has had season tickets since the 1950s at the old Olympia and he said he’s satisfied with his new circumstances.

“I locked in a pair of tickets,” he said. “... The way it all ended up, it really was not as bad as I thought.”

Tom Wilson, the president of Olympia Entertainment, said it’s been somewhat easier to keep people in approximately the same areas, moving from building to building.

“What we do have is 9,000 seats in the lower bowl versus 6,000 at The Joe, so we have a lot more great seats to offer,” Wilson said. “But certain people are going to have to move back a little.”

Seats start closer to ice

The top price at Little Caesars Arena is for two large club sections stretching from ice level to the top of the lower bowl and from just inside one blue line to just inside the other blue line on both sides of the ice, a total of 1,400 seats. Parking and all food, beer and wine are complimentary, and access to the seats is available only through the club entrances.

In the mezzanine and upper bowl of Little Caesars Arena, the seats will rise more abruptly than in Joe Louis Arena as they sweep back from the ice. They also start closer to the rink. The plan is to provide improved sight angles from those locations, and they are similar to the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and Montreal’s Bell Centre.

Next season, at Joe Louis Arena, season tickets in similar areas will range from $33 to $95, up from $30 to $89 this season.

In the first season in Little Caesars Arena, season tickets in the mezzanine will begin at $65 and increase to $70 in rows two through five. A seat in the first row is $98.

And another club at that level will cost $126 and include parking, but not concessions.

In the upper bowl of the new arena, tickets will range from $40 to $65.

The cheapest season ticket at Joe Louis Arena last season was $30.

Choices, choices

Pirronello said he faced a tough decision: Would he pay a 100 percent increase from the $120 next season at Joe Louis Arena for similar seats, but with complimentary parking, food and light alcohol at Little Caesars Arena? Or would he pay just $10 more for a seat that puts him farther from the action, without the freebies?

Pirronello’s new seats are only two rows higher and about five yards farther from center ice, for which he will pay $130.

His six decades of seniority helped.

Others may be less fortunate.

Lou Giroux, of Dearborn Heights, bought season tickets at the Olympia in 1974, about 20 years after Pirronello. Giroux said he cannot afford $240, and the $130 seats likely to be offered him will be farther away from center ice than Pirronello’s.

He said he is considering moving up the mezzanine, if he can stay near center ice, or not making a purchase.

“I’m just a hockey fan. I’m not a big corporation or a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or anything like that,” Giroux said.

“They are trying to turn the center area on both sides into a corporate area, resold every year, and eating 2,000 meals every year. They can do what they want, but I don’t have to pay it.”

Face-to-face talks with fans

Ticket prices rise every time a stadium or arena in professional sports is replaced.

New seats offering new amenities cost more for season ticket buyers. Premium seating helps raise revenue needed for construction, the continuing operation of the franchise and to enhance profitability.

Red Wings officials knew they would face some issues with the team’s passionate, longtime season ticket customers. They say they are helped by advantages in the new building and strong direction from the Ilitch family.

“In most buildings, they’ll go from goal line to goal line with their club seats,” said John Ciszewski, senior vice president of sales. “What was most important to our ownership was: Displace as few people as you possibly can.

“They also wanted the tightest bowl possible.

“Now, it’s a reality when you have a new arena that you’re going to have beachfront property and you’re going to try to get as much as you can out of the beachfront property. But they were really adamant, so our club seats are just beyond in the blue lines.”

Special attention is required, Wilson said, when about 1,500 of the 14,000 season ticket customers have at least 38 years of seniority and 50 percent have 20 years.

“That’s why John made the decision, we want to bring them all in one at a time,” he said. “No emails. Nothing impersonal.”

“We’ve had people here since the ’30s,” Ciszewski said. “We were not naive enough to believe that we weren’t going to have some tough conversations. We didn’t want to hide behind a computer. We wanted to have those conversations face-to-face.

“I will tell you, we’ve had people come in here with no color on their face because they were expecting the worst, and by the time you take them through and get them into the conference room and they see the price, you can see their shoulders just relax.

“We’ve had a couple of people walk out without getting their seats. They were a little upset.

“We said, ‘Hey, we’re just starting the process. Give us a chance. Don’t close us out, yet. We’ll get back to you.’ ”