Greg Fewer lives in Abu Dhabi but he has been spending much of his time these days begging, pleading with and cajoling friends in Canada to get him something that seems unattainable – tickets to the Winnipeg Jets' season opener on Sunday.
"I am desperate," said Fewer, who grew up in Winnipeg and works for an investment fund in Abu Dhabi. Fewer has been trying for months to buy Jets season tickets, mainly as a gift for his father and brother, who live in Winnipeg. He has scoured websites, pored over chat rooms and called up Canadian contacts. So far, no luck.
"If you see [team co-owner]Mark Chipman, tell him I am desperate for a pair," added Fewer, who quickly threw in that Chipman was his high school football coach, hoping the personal connection might help. "I'm hoping to figure out if anyone knows if any are available."
He may live far away, but Fewer is not alone in his desperation to get tickets for the Jets' first game, featuring the Montreal Canadiens. The MTS Centre sold out weeks ago, and now resellers on popular websites such as StubHub are asking up to $2,100 for the best seats, more than 10 times the face value.
"They are like gold," Graeme MacDonald, a Winnipeg investment broker, said. "The Oct. 9 game is going to be crazy as hell to get into."
MacDonald was among the thousands of Jets fans who clogged the team's website last June to get a chance to buy season tickets. "It was like we were all a pack of sled-dogs yanking deliriously at the reins," he said. "I couldn't calm my fingers from shaking from the anticipation. And then noon struck, the site went live and after 15 years of waiting, we almost got shut out."
All 13,000 tickets sold out in minutes, and the waiting list got so large, the team capped it at 8,000. The few single-game tickets available are sold each month through an online lottery. The first draw was held in September and it nearly crashed the club's computer system.
MacDonald hoped to buy four season tickets but he ended up with just one. He cut a deal with another ticket holder to share a pair for the season. They divided the games by a draw and MacDonald's partner gets the first game. But MacDonald said he is still overjoyed to have any tickets and he's holding a party at home for Game 1.
Winnipeggers aren't the only people trying to find tickets. Former Winnipeggers have been calling in from across the country to get whatever they can.
"I've had calls from executives in Calgary and Vancouver and certainly Toronto asking if we had any tickets left," said Lewis Rusen, an ex-Winnipegger who lives in Toronto.
Rusen, a senior executive with recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, bought season tickets with fellow ex-Winnipegger Bruce Rothney, another Torontonian. The two are flying to Winnipeg for Sunday's game and they hope to make it to a few more during the season. They plan to give away their remaining tickets to friends and family, something that has unleashed a frenzy of requests.
"There is so much demand for the tickets, a lot of people want to go," said Rothney, who runs the Canadian operations for Barclays Capital. "I think the performance of the team is almost secondary."
The demand will only increase this week as the city gears up for Sunday's game with two concerts and a day-long festival downtown. There are also reports of counterfeit tickets and Jets jerseys being sold on the streets, and last week police arrested a man for allegedly selling bogus tickets online.
Vancouver ticket broker Mario Livich has been receiving a lot of calls from people hoping to get to the Jets' season opener. But he's not doing any panic buying yet. Resale prices are being driven by emotion and greed, he said, and they probably won't hold up as game time approaches.
"People think they are holding gold," said Livich, who runs ShowTimeTickets.com "There is so much pent-up demand. The ticket industry is very much emotion driven."
He noted that prices have already come down somewhat. Last August, sellers were demanding $3,700 for top tickets to Sunday's game. That fell to $2,600 last week and $2,100 as of Wednesday.
Reselling tickets can be a tricky business in Winnipeg. Technically, "scalping," or selling a ticket for more than its face value, is illegal in Manitoba and carries a fine of up to $5,000. The Jets have their own site for season ticket holders who want to resell unused tickets, at face value and for a fee.
Chipman grew testy when told the asking price for some tickets for the Jets' opener was more than $2,000. "I am surprised by that mostly because that's illegal in Manitoba and people who get caught doing that are going to lose their season ticket privileges," he said sternly. "You can't do that in Manitoba and our season ticket holders have been warned of that."
Warned or not, long-time fans like Fewer, who grew up going to Jets games with his family before the team relocated to Phoenix in 1996, won't give up looking and begging.
"The Jets' fan support runs far and wide," he said. "If anyone out there knows of any tickets, tell them there's a buyer here."