MONTREAL — Fans looking to secure tickets to a Montreal Canadiens game during the Stanley Cup finals should be ready to fork over a small fortune.
Only 3,500 tickets per game were available as of Monday, dispersed through a lottery system by the hockey club among its season ticket holders.
Ticket prices for those lucky few are $1,500 each for red premium seats for Games 3 and 4 and $1,875 for a possible Game 6. The cheapest seats in the upper bowl range cost $600 for the first two home contests on July 2 and July 5, rising to $750 for Game 6.
But some resale sites, such as StubHub, were already posting speculative ticket listings ranging from $5,300 to $30,672 per ticket over the weekend after the club reached the finals for the first time since 1993.
A 28-year Stanley Cup drought coupled with the pandemic-induced cap of 3,500 fans inside the Bell Centre means those cherished tickets are even harder to get than usual. Under normal circumstances, attendance for hockey at the Bell Centre is 21,302.
Dion Robinson, 33, of Alberta had set aside about $5,000, hoping to snag tickets to Game 6 at the Bell Centre, if the series extends to that point. Robinson, a Nova Scotia native and lifelong Canadiens fan, has seen the team play in Edmonton a few times but never in Montreal.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right? And of course they make the final round the same year as COVID, which really throws a wrench into everything," Robinson said from his home in Grande Prairie, Alta.
He's been refreshing the Ticketmaster website every 30 minutes in the past few days, hoping to find a couple of tickets.
"The last three weeks, I've been saying at work if they allow fans in there and they make it to the final round, I'm going to do whatever I can to get to Game 6," Robinson said, figuring it's the best chance to see the Cup raised in Montreal. But when Robinson saw tickets listed on resale sites for about $7,000 each, "it just killed me." He's starting to doubt that $5,000 will be enough to make his dream reality.
After a regular season played without fans, the Canadiens were allowed to have 2,500 fans beginning with Game Six of their opening round series against Toronto. On June 15, public health authorities upped that number to 3,500.
Amid COVID-19 concerns, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante has also floated the idea of having large outdoor areas where fans who can't afford to get inside the Bell Centre can gather safely to watch the games on giant screens.
Provincial health officials said Monday that both an increase of Bell Centre capacity, as requested by the Canadiens, and outdoor viewing areas are under study. "We are working on different scenarios for the next home games," the Health Department said in a statement.
For those who have managed to snare tickets, giving them up would be a tough call.
Season ticket holder Steve Bonspiel managed to get tickets to the Canadiens semifinal series-clinching win against the Vegas Golden Knights. He didn't get them right away but was lucky when someone else declined the tickets.
"This round they said no dice," Bonspiel said of the finals. "I'm really hoping they'll come back to me and say the seats are increased or someone didn't want their tickets."
Bonspiel said barring an insane offer, he wouldn't consider selling.
"In normal times, if they did this run to the Stanley Cup, I'd have my choice of games," Bonspiel said. "Even as a season-ticket holder, I've only had a chance to have two tickets this whole time."
With Montreal tickets scarce, some fans opted to take advantage of loosening border restrictions and travel to Tampa Bay.
"The only thing that was available was in Tampa. They didn't even offer in Montreal as of yet," said Rob Sarkic, a lifelong Habs fan from Caledon, Ont., who bought two tickets to a possible winner-take-all Game 7 in Florida. He secured two seats for $938, a bargain by Bell Centre standards.
"That's why we did what we did, to get some kind of a ticket," said Sarkic, who hopes to attend with his son.
During the semifinals, the Tampa Bay Lightning had 75 per cent capacity at Amalie Arena — 14,800 fans. On Monday, the Lightning increased capacity to 16,300 fans and released last-minute tickets.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press