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Lockout drives Bruins ticket prices higher

Lines at the TD Garden have been common this week as the Bruins begin their season Saturday. Ticket prices on the secondary market have been 30 percent higher than last year. Below, fans watched the team play its Providence affiliate on Tuesday.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Lines at the TD Garden have been common this week as the Bruins begin their season Saturday. Ticket prices on the secondary market have been 30 percent higher than last year. Below, fans watched the team play its Providence affiliate on Tuesday.

During the NHL lockout, disgruntled Bruins fans could be heard claiming to give up on the league forever. But now that the labor dispute is over, some supporters are so eager to see Boston’s hockey team back in action that they are paying much more than face value for tickets.

Officially, Bruins ticket sales began on Wednesday. But as soon as the league released its game schedule late on Saturday, hockey-starved fans flocked to the secondary ticket market, where they can buy seats from season ticket holders on such websites as StubHub.com and TicketNetwork.com.

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Tickets to see the Bruins, who open the season on Saturday against the New York Rangers at TD Garden, have sold for as much as $639 online — six times their original cost.

The average price of a Bruins ticket on the secondary market is $150.13, according to TiqIQ, an online marketplace of tickets from major resellers — 30 percent higher now, following­ the lockout, than it was at the start of last season, when the team reigned as the defending Stanley Cup champion.

“The combination of pent-up demand and fewer, more meaningful games outweighs the excitement of winning the cup,” said Patrick Rishe, director of market research firm Sportsimpacts in St. Louis.

Even tickets to a Bruins scrimmage on Tuesday night — which the team distributed for free Monday on a first-come, first-served basis — sold online for as much as $59.

Bruins fans are among the NHL’s most passionate, and their eagerness to see games after three months of cancellations is driving up prices, said Tim Fraser, a spokesman for TicketNetwork. In the first 36 hours after the league announced an abbreviated, 48-game schedule, half of all NHL ticket sales on the site were for the games of three teams: the Bruins, Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks.

“There’s not going to be a lack of interest in a city like Boston,” Fraser said. “Fans have been distracted by other sports, and now they’re like, ‘Hockey’s back — great.’”

At StubHub.com, the Bruins ticket page was viewed more than 200,000 times between Saturday night and Monday afternoon, reported Shannon J. Barbara, a company spokeswoman.

“Fans are extremely excited to have a season back and have been eagerly purchasing tickets,” Barbara said. “The Bruins are consistently one of the top hockey teams that trend on StubHub, and this season is no different.”

The lockout — a fight between wealthy players and wealthier owners over how to divide billions in league revenue — made some fans angry enough to drop the gloves like Bruins brawler Shawn Thornton. The work stoppage was the league’s third in 19 seasons, and the last lockout wiped out the entire 2004-2005 season.

But the instant demand for tickets, now that the lockout is over, continues a historical trend. Prices typically go up after a sports league misses games, Barbara said, because fans have fewer opportunities to see their teams live during shortened seasons.

In the season after the last NHL lockout, 25 of 30 teams enjoyed higher attendance than they had in the season before the lockout. League revenues have grown by 50 percent over the past five years, to $3.4 billion.

Jim Davis/Globe staff

Fans lined up outside the entrance at the TD Garden Wednesday before the Boston Bruins’ exhibition game.

“Fans routinely talk about their frustration with labor issues, but they seldom curtail their interest or spending for long,” said David M. Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. “They may change how they consume or watch their favorite player, team or league, but they aren’t likely to walk away — and the sports industry knows it.”

Savvy season ticket holders know it, too, said Tony Knopp, chief executive of ticket management firm Spotlight TMS in Calabasas, Calif. Many season ticket holders treat their seats as investments, said Knopp, a former StubHub executive. They identify popular games, sell tickets to those contests at a profit, and use the extra cash to defray the cost of games they actually attend.

During the first two days after the NHL schedule was released, season ticket holders flooded the secondary market with 48,000 Bruins tickets, said Chris Matcovich, a spokesman for TiqIQ.

For season ticket holders, Knopp said, “now’s the time to sell.”

Hockey deprivation has not inflated the demand for tickets in every NHL city. Tickets to the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, and Columbus Blue Jackets are available for $8 or less in the secondary market.

But on the whole — and especially for popular teams like the Bruins — ticket prices are likely to remain higher than usual throughout the shortened season, Knopp predicted, even if some fans were turned off by the lockout.

“Maybe only 70 or 80 percent of the fans who would have gone to hockey games will go this year,” Knopp said. “But you only have 50 percent of the games, so you’re still oversubscribed.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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