Within Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the sales department had previously considered what to do if the crowd limits at the Raptors and Leafs homes were to be tightened again, as the spread of the Omicron variant dominated. the news cycle.
But there wasn’t much to be done proactively on Wednesday when, just hours after a final decision was made by the provincial government, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the sites that could accommodate 1,000 or more people – like the Scotiabank Arena – would be capped at 50 percent.
Tom McDonald, MLSE’s vice president of ticketing and sales, knew getting information out to ticket holders was the top priority, although there wasn’t much to get at this point.
“Everyone just wants to understand what this means to them and their purchases,” McDonald said. “It was above all. We had to walk past. We had to save time and let our fans know we were there.
So the company “basically asked for patience,” he said, telling fans they would know more in 24 hours.
MLSE had set limits during the Raptors preseason and the start of the basketball program in October, but the government paved the way for full capacity in the Oct. 20 home opener against the Wizards in October. Washington. Tickets were sold en masse from there, and the game changed.
“It’s a different animal once you’ve already sold at full capacity, to try to get out of that 100 percent capacity,” McDonald said. “There haven’t been a lot of teams that have done it. So we are in uncharted waters, so to speak.
MLSE ultimately decided to “prioritize and keep” season ticket holders – about 85% of total seats for Leafs games, about 70% for Raptors – when deciding who enters the building. at half capacity, about 10,000.
The process involved more than 100 employees – in the hours between Ford’s announcement and Thursday afternoon – to process refunds, answer a flood of questions from the public, and help educate those who may attend, starting with Saturday night’s Raptors-Warriors game. The Leafs’ next home date is Dec. 23 against the St. Louis Blues.
“All off-season seat tickets will be refunded and tickets will be split among season seat members for upcoming games based on the new limited capacity,” MLSE said in a statement Thursday.
Similar to the Raptors preseason, when restrictions were also in place, season pass holders will be randomly split into two groups and receive tickets to attend alternate games “by mid-January” .
“Members will be contacted again in January with allowances for the next phase of games based on current public health restrictions. All ticket holders will be notified of refund details in the coming days, with Raptors members being notified (Thursday) and Leafs members by Tuesday of the allowance details.
Credit card refunds will take seven to ten days, McDonald said.
McDonald called the compromise “fair and equitable” to ticket holders.
“Our members are committed to buying every seat for every game and that’s a commitment we made to them. to give them access when we can, ”he said. “Obviously going through this process with reduced capacity things have changed, but we’ve made this decision to prioritize them given the history and long-standing support our members have and continue to give us.”
The process of trying to prepare for all eventualities in a changing environment has been a challenge for ticket staff for over 18 months.
“There has been and still is a ton of scenario planning… There’s a ton of work going on. Much of it ends up on the cutting room floor based on guidelines from health officials, ”he said.
The game plan will be reassessed after the holidays. MLSE is hopeful that no further refunds will be required, but it’s unclear what the situation will look like in January.
The Montreal Canadiens have already gone further in terms of restrictions, announcing Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Center will take place without fans in the stands. Quebec public health officials had requested that no fans attend the game due to “the dizzying increase in COVID-19 cases in the region”.
Canadians said they expected a return to limited crowds in early January.
A number of popular games on the Raptors’ calendar are dropping over the next few weeks. Danny Green will finally get his Raptors championship ring when the 76ers visit on December 28, and Serge Ibaka will play his first game in Toronto since leaving as a free agent when the Clippers are in town on December 31.
Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are in town on December 29, while Connor McDavid makes his only hometown appearance on January 5.
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