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Ticket brokers begin seeing impact of NBA lockout

By Patrick Dunne

When Tom Brady was capping off the NFL's opening weekend with a 500-yard passing performance in the New England Patriots' victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, chances are the thoughts of fans and ticket brokers were not on the protracted spring- and summer-long lockout that threatened to cost them such moments — and money.

NBA fans, teams and ticket brokers are no doubt hoping for a similar scenario when LeBron James and the Miami Heat visit the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, among other season-openers, November 2. They want the games played, the stars to shine and seats to be filled. And they want the lockout to be a distant memory.

Still, an on-time opening of training camps, the preseason and the regular season is becoming increasingly endangered. NBA owners and player negotiations to end the labor stalemate — once hopeful in early September — turned sour again last week.

NBA players chief Billy Hunter told the Los Angeles Times last week he was "a bit pessimistic" that the season would begin on time after owners rejected a proposal that would have reduced players salaries but maintained a flexible salary cap. Camps are still scheduled to open October 3 and the preseason October 9.

One established star, Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets, is already playing in Turkey, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard have flirted with playing in China and the Los Angeles Lakers' mercurial Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace, has fled to "Dancing with the Stars." Meanwhile, ticket brokers, who expressed little worry when the lockout began July 1, are starting to feel an impact as the season grows closer.

"I'm always an optimist, but it's hard to be optimistic about something you have no control over," Jim Holzman, president of Boston-based Ace Tickets, told TicketNews. He then used the familiar refrain of fans and brokers regarding every sports work-stoppage. "There's so much money involved that you have to think a deal is going to get done."

The last NBA lockout began in 1998 and wasn't settled until January 1999, resulting in a 50-game season, down from the normal 82. Are contingencies being worked on for canceled games or refunds for season-ticket holders? NBA teams aren't talking, citing the league-wide gag order issued by NBA Commissioner David Stern during the lockout.

Violating it can be costly, as league icon and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan recently found out. Jordan was reportedly fined $100,000 for his lockout comments to an Australian newspaper. In the interview, he called for revenue sharing for small market teams, including his, and said the NBA's current model was "broken."

Longtime Lakers spokesman John Black referenced the Jordan fine to TicketNews before issuing his no comment. NBA senior vice president of marketing communications Michael Bass, in an e-mail, would say that season-ticket holders will be protected. "The league-wide policy is that in the unfortunate event of missed games, all season-ticket holders have the option to receive a refund plus interest on a monthly basis for all missed games," Bass wrote.

Holzman said Boston Celtics tickets sales are "flat, totally flat," but hoped an 11th-hour NBA settlement would produce the kind of surge that the NFL experienced after its last-minute deal. "It was the same way with the Patriots until they got a deal done," Holzman said. In fact, Holzman sees a shortened season being beneficial to the veteran-laden Celtics, and consequently, to Ace Ticket.

"The Celtics are an aging team and a shortened season might help them, so I could make it up on the back end," he said, referring to a playoff run.

A canceled season would cost arena operators more than $1 billion in revenue, according to a Bloomberg News report. The first to feel that would be preseason venues, such as the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., scheduled to host the Celtics and Knicks on October 22. Chuck Steedman, senior VP of AEG Northland, which runs the XL Center, told TicketNews despite the threat of cancellation, they're proceeding with business as usual on ticket sales for the game.

"Tickets are actually ahead of last year's sales," Steedman said. Celtics-Knicks drew a near-sellout of 15,000 to the 16,294-seat XL in 2010. "The bottom line is the event is for sale, we are selling tickets. If the NBA makes a decision on it as we get closer, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

In sports-hungry Boston, Holzman still has a full plate, even without the NBA.

"I'm like the owner of a restaurant that is not selling dessert," he said. "I've got the Red Sox, the NHL and the Bruins, but not the NBA. So you've got your main meal and your liquor, but no dessert."

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