It's a dilemma that storied franchises like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten used to: not enough room on the bandwagon for the marginal fan.
But the Anaheim Ducks hockey team? New territory indeed.
With a season-ticket base expanding by the minute, casual Ducks fans will have a tough time watching the Stanley Cup finals in person -- unless they get lucky online or feel compelled to shell out upward of $1,500 for a seat.
"It's a great problem to have," said Tim Ryan, the Ducks' chief operating officer. "We want to do everything we can for every fan, but the reality is we've only got 17,400 seats available, including standing room."
After their Stanley Cup semifinal appearance last year, the Ducks were a favorite to reach the finals this year. They haven't disappointed, knocking off Minnesota, Vancouver and Detroit on their way to the championship series, which begins Monday night at the Honda Center against the Ottawa Senators.
Since billionaire Henry Samueli purchased the team two years ago from Disney, the number of season-ticket holders has nearly doubled, from 7,000 to more than 13,000, with at least 600 signing up since Wednesday, guaranteeing them the opportunity to buy finals tickets. During the regular season, about 4,000 seats per game were available to the public, but in the playoffs, 3,000 to 3,500 tickets are siphoned off for sponsors, league officials, players and their families.
The ticket crunch means that fewer than 1,000 seats will go on sale this morning for each home game in the best-of-seven series. Some will be grabbed online in minutes and a few will go to those who have waited for hours outside the team's box.
The limited availability of seats has squeezed the market for ticket brokers.
StubHub, a San Francisco-based online ticket marketplace, said that only about 250 seats from season-ticket holders were available for Monday night's opening game, selling for $200 to $1,200 each.
"That's not nearly as many as you'd see for a Dodgers playoff game or even a Lakers playoff game," said Sean Pate, a StubHub spokesman. "It shows me a lot of those season-ticket holders are holding onto their seats."
Chuck Alexander of Anaheim said he is leaning toward selling his seats behind Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, especially when he heard center-ice seats were going for $1,500 each, more than five times the face value of his $280 seat. He sold his two tickets to a semifinal game for $1,200 to a Detroit fan.
"If I can make 3,000 bucks for the pair, I'd prefer to just watch it on TV," said Alexander, 46, a season-ticket holder since the team's inaugural season in 1993. "For $3,000, you can go to Puerto Vallarta for a week. I'll take Puerto Vallarta over sitting for three hours for a hockey game."
Alexander said he remembers getting much less for his seats to the 2003 finals in Anaheim, when the then-Mighty Ducks fell to New Jersey in seven games.
"The rising cost of tickets is typical of Orange County in general," he said. "Look what home prices did in two years; they increased $300,000 to $400,000. Look at gas prices at nearly 4 bucks a gallon. People are willing to pay more around here."
Ryan said the demand for Ducks tickets has only been helped by the Lakers' early playoff exit and the fact that the Los Angeles Kings didn't qualify for the hockey postseason.
"We're the last major basketball or hockey team in the state to still be playing," he said. "You've got one team, limited tickets and a massive population. You do the math; it's going to lead to higher prices."
Though Hollywood celebrities like to attend sporting events -- think Denzel Washington, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman at Lakers' games -- they haven't often made the trek down Interstate 5 to make a hockey game. That is beginning to change as rapper Snoop Dogg, actor Luke Wilson and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have attended Ducks playoff games. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will attend Monday's game.
The lucky ones in Anaheim are City Council members, who are given four seats per game at the city-owned arena. Councilwoman Lorri Galloway said her daughter Tami handles her ticket requests.
"She's everybody's best friend right now," Galloway said. "She's being inundated. There's lots of begging going on."