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Mighty Ducks Remain Hottest Ticket in Town : Hockey: Despite finishing last in the conference, tonight’s finale is expected to be their 49th consecutive home sellout.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Game after game, no matter the day or time, no matter if it was spring break or the Angels’ opening night, no matter whether the Mighty Ducks were playing the Detroit Red Wings, the Kings or the Winnipeg Jets, one number was always the same at The Pond this season: 17,174.

Tonight’s season finale against Toronto is expected to complete a sold-out season and mark the 49th consecutive sellout in a string that began Dec. 22, 1993. Not even a lockout that wiped out almost half the NHL season jaded fans’ ardor for the eggplant-and-jade.

Does that mean the Mighty Ducks can raise ticket prices again--or should they just try to find a way to raise the roof?

Tear off the top of the building and add 3,000 seats, and the Ducks could probably sell those too, to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fans who have been ready to pay an average of nearly $32 a seat to watch the Ducks--win, lose or tie, last place or not.

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One school of economic thought would say a sellout is nothing more than an indication that ticket prices aren’t high enough, that the point of resistance has not been reached, even after an average increase of 10.6% this season.

Club President Tony Tavares thinks he could sell the 5,200 lower-level seats for $75 a game. Thankfully, he’s not planning to--yet.

“You see the logic of greed with sports teams all the time,” Tavares said. “I’m not saying we won’t raise prices, I’m saying we won’t raise them until the point that demand equals supply.”

Tavares admits that “tickets will probably go up but not significantly” for next season, with the increases most likely on some seats in the lower bowl, which will eventually all be one price.

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Tavares is savvy enough to know that ticket demand won’t always remain so independent of the team’s performance, that fans won’t always be so willing to pay for promise alone. The day will come when they won’t embrace just anybody in a Duck jersey--though if Orange County fans embrace the Clippers, maybe they’ll embrace anybody. The Kings sold out every game during the 1991-92 season but haven’t done it since.

“For whatever reason, (Duck games) became the in-thing to do in Orange County,” Tavares said. “Tickets have been difficult to get and the more difficult they are to get the more demand there is.

“There’s the old saying, success breeds success, but it’s not something you can plan on. At some point you’ve got to be very competitive . . . and be a real threat to be in the playoffs, not a threat just to back into the playoffs.”

Tavares says he wouldn’t feel right hiking prices steeply after this season, but if, say, the team becomes a contender for the Pacific Division title . . . “that would be a modifying factor as to where ticket prices are going to go.”

In the meantime, the club is also bandying about concepts to increase arena revenue. The Ducks’ gate receipts, quoted as $25.2 million by Financial World magazine, were about $5.5 million more than the NHL average. This season, the Ducks are one of eight teams the NHL expects to sell out the season, along with San Jose, the New York Rangers, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal and St. Louis.

But how do you sell more than a sellout? One concept is that you sell the seat twice. If a season ticket-holder isn’t going to come to the game, buy back the seat and sell it again. What difference does it make to the Ducks if the seats are full as long as they’re sold? Concessions and parking are a consideration. Plus, Tavares says, with more people in the seats “the ambience is better. Having empty seats because of no-shows is not exciting. It’s more exciting to have a packed house.”


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