By Scott Linesburgh
Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, February 6, 2005
STOCKTON, Calif. – Matt Davis arrived at the Bob Hope Theatre at 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning, set up his folding chair in front of the door, snuggled under a blanket, ate a blueberry muffin and waited to fulfill his destiny as the first season-ticket holder for Stockton’s new professional hockey team.
Davis, an avid hockey fan, got his wish and was the first to buy a ticket. He was followed by hundreds of longtime hockey fans and curious newcomers to the sport on a busy first day of sales that took team management somewhat by surprise.
The theater box office on East Main Street opened an hour early because a long line had snaked around the corner. By the time the theater closed at 4 p.m., 657 season tickets had been sold for an as-yet unnamed Class AA franchise that will begin playing in October in the new arena. Saturday’s season tickets plus the 260 seats in the 22 luxury suites purchased earlier brings the hockey team’s ticket base to 917.
By comparison, a Class AA hockey franchise in Gwinnett County, Ga., which began playing two years ago, sold 560 season tickets on its first day. The team averages a league-best 6,134 fans per game.
Stockton’s first-day seasons tickets are “a very impressive number, and I think the response validates the choice to put a team in Stockton and in the new arena,” Gwinnett Chief Executive Officer Bill Davidson said.
Stockton team President Dan Chapman said he had expected that as many as 500 tickets would sell the first day.
“It’s just an unbelievable response,” Chapman said. “I don’t know that we saw this coming.”
The first thing Chapman saw upon arrival at the theater was about 75 people lined up for tickets at 8 a.m., two hours before the scheduled opening.
Davis said some people showed up about 90 minutes after he did, and by 9 a.m. there were about 125 people in line. Chapman decided to open the doors early and greeted Davis, a 34-year-old property manager from Stockton.
Davis strode into the theater and knew exactly what he wanted. He bought four seats in the front row of the upper level, each selling for $450. Tickets range from $325 to $900 for the 36-game season packages.
Davis said it was worth the wait. “I got exactly the seats I wanted, which is why I got here so early,” Davis said. “It wasn’t so bad waiting. I had my muffin and a Snapple, and I brought a couple of magazines. I wanted to get involved because I like hockey and I think this will be great for the city. I really wanted to be the first one.”
Others might not have been at the front of the line, but they bided their time talking about hockey, the Atlantic City team that will play in Stockton next season and what the new arena will mean to Stockton.
“Everyone is having a good time. No one is dropping the gloves and fighting,” Frank Quacinella of Stockton said with a laugh, referring to extracurricular events at hockey games. “This is great. It’s foggy and chilly, so it’s kind of a hockey day.”
Ticket customers said the current National Hockey League labor dispute did not dampen their enthusiasm for the minor league team.
The opening of season ticket sales attracted a mix of true hockey fans, those who are willing to be converted and those who were just happy to have a new team coming to town.
Karen Horrocks of Lathrop said she’s been a hockey fan for years and brought her two young sons with her to the theater. Gary Jones, a Stockton police officer, said he likes hockey but he also bought tickets to support the team in Stockton.
“Look at this line,” Jones said. “It shows you people are interested and really wanted their tickets.”
No one wanted those tickets more than Davis. And as he left the theatre, he held them up in the air for a moment.
“Now I can’t wait until they start playing,” he said.