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Different Kind of Star for L.A.

Hockey: NHL's showcase event will boost local economy as it comes to Staples Center, but getting seat won't be easy.

January 28, 2002|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not only the Southland business community that benefits when the 52nd NHL All-Star game comes to Staples Center Saturday, pumping more than $10 million into the local economy.

Although the Kings actually end up losing money by hosting the event, it gives the team another chance to show off Staples Center, the undisputed jewel in their crown, and offers an opportunity to dispel the notion that Los Angeles is a second-tier hockey market.

"We're extremely happy to have the NHL All-Star game here, said Tim Leiweke, president of the Kings and Staples Center.

The game comes at an opportune time for the city, following the college football national title game at the Rose Bowl, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and leading up to next month's Grammys at Staples, said Kathy Schloessman, president of the L.A. Sports and Entertainment Commission. Tourism in Los Angeles has taken a steep decline since the Sept. 11 attacks, down about 15% from the previous year.

"It's so important right now," Schloessman said of the events being brought to the city. "We're the hardest hit we've ever been. An event like this is giving people a reason to get on planes.... It's almost an impetus, a jump-start."

Leiweke has already bid to bring the NBA All-Star game in 2004. He is undaunted by the "public relations nightmare" currently playing out in Philadelphia, host of Feb. 10 NBA All-Star game.

Ed Snider, the Philadelphia 76er chairman, said the 76ers were allotted only 3,000 All-Star tickets to divvy up among 16,000 season-seat holders, with the rest of the seats going to sponsors and other guests handpicked by the league.

"If I could give the game back, I would," Snider said. "I can tell you this for sure: We will never apply for another."

By happy coincidence, the Kings were able to offer all of their season-ticket holders--and even those who purchased only half-season plans--the opportunity to shell out $185 to $350 to buy tickets for Saturday's game.

The Kings' season-ticket base of about 11,000 equaled the club's allotment of All-Star game tickets, a sign that the clamor for All-Star game tickets among the NHL's sponsors and other affiliates falls short of the demand among the NBA's business partners.

Not everyone is pleased with ticket availability, however.

Most of the King season-ticket holders, for example, were not offered the same seats they'll sit in for 41 King games this season--only those who opened their accounts before 1985 are entitled to sit in the lower bowl.

And fans who buy tickets to watch the Kings on a game-by-game basis were shut out of Saturday's game altogether.

"The thing that bothers me the most is that they're not even giving the general public the opportunity to buy tickets," said Gerald Trudeau, a 42-year-old letter carrier from Fontana who said he attends about five games a year and has supported the Kings since they joined the NHL before the 1967-68 season.

In 1981, when the All-Star game was played at the Forum, Trudeau said he was able to buy tickets for seats less than 20 rows from the ice. "Now," he said, "you have to spend thousands of dollars on season seats or go through a broker [to get tickets for the All-Star game]."

But it could be worse.

Two years ago in hockey-mad Toronto, where the Maple Leafs fill up all but a small portion of Air Canada Centre with season-seat subscribers, All-Star tickets were available only to those who had opened their accounts before 1960.

Last year in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche offered only two tickets to each of their season-seat account holders, no matter the number of season seats purchased.

"I'm very happy with how it's turned out for us," said Kurt Schwartzkopf, vice president of sales and marketing for the Kings. "We obviously wanted to take care of everybody, but we don't have 50,000 seats, so we know we can't. We just do the best we can with the allocation we're given."

The NHL took about 8,000 seats for Saturday's game, most in the lower bowl, to distribute among its sponsors, licensees, retail partners, broadcasters, teams, players and their guests, media and other special guests, said Frank Supovitz, group vice president of events and entertainment for the league.

"The math worked out here completely coincidentally," Supovitz said of the Kings' ability to offer all of its season-ticket holders access to the game.

Still, Supovitz said: "We're cognizant of the fact that this is an event that can't accommodate every fan that wants to get into the building. But the number of tickets we do have available for season-ticket holders and the like is significant enough to where the number of disappointments is greatly reduced. Where the disappointment is frequently voiced is among fans who are not season-ticket holders."

Such complaints aside, Supovitz said it's easy to see why eight NHL teams submitted bids to be host of the All-Star game in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The Florida Panthers will play host to next year's game at Sunrise, Fla.

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