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Bruins battle high-volume ticket resellers

Bruins fans waited in line on the day tickets for the season went on sale.  The 1,000 season tickets freed up by the move will go to some of the 10,000 fans on a waiting list for season tickets, the Bruins said.
Bruins fans waited in line on the day tickets for the season went on sale. The 1,000 season tickets freed up by the move will go to some of the 10,000 fans on a waiting list for season tickets, the Bruins said.(Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2013)

The Boston Bruins are taking on a group long resented but grudgingly tolerated by sports fans: ticket agencies that buy up seasonlong ticket packages and resell them piecemeal for prices far above face value.

The team announced Monday that it has canceled the accounts of nearly 200 high-volume ticket resellers located outside New England and New York, after identifying them in an analysis of its sales data. The 1,000 season tickets freed up by the move will go to some of the 10,000 fans on a waiting list for season tickets, Bruins executives said.

High-volume ticket resellers within the local market, meanwhile, will now have to pay more for season tickets than fans do — a premium of nine percent or higher, depending on the location of the seats within TD Garden. Regular-season ticket holders will not see an increase in prices for the 2016-2017 National Hockey League season, the Bruins said.

“We wanted to better understand the mix of our entire season-ticket population, and we discovered we had a higher than projected number of resellers,” said Glen Thornborough, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Bruins and TD Garden, in an interview. “The idea was finding a way to increase the number of tickets for individuals that use the tickets for personal use, and allow more fans to come in at the discounted prices season ticket holders get.”

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The move follows efforts by other Boston-area sports teams to better control the secondary ticket market, where fan discontent fueled by high prices or even fake tickets can fester. The Red Sox, whose principal owner John Henry also owns the Globe, recently introduced an in-house online reselling service where fans can swap guaranteed-genuine tickets for a fee.

Thornborough said a data analytics team employed by the Bruins used a variety of techniques to figure out which seasonlong accounts belonged to resellers, including monitoring how many games the buyer actually attended and how many different marketplaces listed the same tickets for resale.

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Resellers may try to sidestep the new system, Thornborough acknowledged, perhaps by creating accounts in different names or hiring local buyers to act as a front. But he said the Bruins’ data analytics group is catching up in what amounts to a technological arms race between resellers and teams.

“They’re a sophisticated group, but we’re getting more sophisticated every year,” he said.

Thornborough argued that resellers’ margins are more than high enough to absorb the nine-percent-plus price hike imposed by the Bruins. The cost of a ticket purchased as part of a seasonlong package is, on average, about half the price of the same ticket purchased alone at the box office, the team said — and resellers often mark up tickets above even that box office price.

Resellers, though, say they’ll be forced to pass any price increases on to fans. TicketNetwork Inc., a broker headquartered in Connecticut, said the move by the Bruins will hurt casual fans who attend only a few games each season.

“TicketNetwork believes that a fair and open marketplace is best for consumers,” Don Vaccaro, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Any limitation on the distribution of tickets at a lower price to consumers who have the financial means to purchase full season tickets versus those who only have the means to purchase single tickets to a few games will gentrify the loyal blue collar fan base.”

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Vaccaro added that many Bruins tickets offered by his company ultimately sell for below face value, and suggested the Bruins were raising prices for resellers so fans won’t think the team is overcharging them.

For season ticket-holding fans, loge seats next season will sell for $90 to $155 per game, and balcony seats for $48 to $107 per game.

According to TiqIQ, an online marketplace of tickets from major resellers, the average price of a ticket for a Bruins home game on the secondary market this season is around $172.

Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate who founded the ConsumerWorld.org website, said he cheered any move that took money from resellers and gave it to season ticket holders — but he acknowledged resellers may respond by simply raising prices for fans who buy one game at a time.

Dworsky said state regulators and legislators should consider requiring resellers to disclose the face value of the tickets they offer, so fans know how much markup they’re paying.

“There aren’t too many industries that charge two times, three times what they paid for something. This is not a standard retail markup,” Dworsky said. “We’re ending up with a situation where only princes and royalty can afford to go to sports games.”

In Massachusetts, an obscure and little-enforced law dating from 1924 limits resellers to charging just $2 above a ticket’s face value — plus “attributable” service charges. But resellers frequently flout the spirit of that measure, claiming that $98 of a hypothetical $100 markup goes to cover their operating expenses.

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Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielAdams86.