I'm a big hockey fan and have been since junior high, when my Penguins won their first two Stanley Cups and the Pittsburgh suburb where I grew up exploded with joy. But I'm now a working Colorado father and the NHL has all but priced out middle-class families, with many upper-level tickets sporting a face value of $50 to $60 before service charges. So I was elated on Sunday when, with my father and uncle in town. I noticed a newspaper advertisement touting the Avs' new deal with Arby's.
The "Arby's Faceoff 4-Pack," the ad states, includes "4 Tickets, 4 Roast Beef Classics, Small Curly Fries, 4 Small Pepsis and a $10 Altitude Authentics Gift Card for just $99."
We called the Tickethorse number on the ad. The seats, which usually cost over $50, were near the very top of the Pepsi Center, but at a hockey game (and especially at a great arena such as the Pepsi Center) there are really no bad seats. The woman on the other end of the line at Tickethorse agreed that the deal was a good one: Tickets and concessions at professional sporting events are ludicrously expensive these days, and the ability to feed and seat four people -- not to mention collect $10 worth of souvenirs -- at an NHL game for $99 (plus about $30 in service charges) seemed like something to celebrate.
Unfortunately, the 6 p.m. opening faceoff was too late for my 22-month-old daughter, whose namesake is Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, and so we wound up selling the fourth ticket to a fan outside the arena. But my disappointment at my daughter missing what would have been her first NHL game paled compared to what happened when my father, uncle and I hungrily approached the Pepsi Center Arby's stand after the first intermission, with the score tied 1-1. Only then were we told that the four sandwiches, four drinks and four curly fries would not be given to us at the Pepsi Center: The meal tickets are only redeemable at "area Arby's locations."
"I know, it's terrible," an Arby's cashier told me. "We're getting lots of complaints because people don't know."
Every item on the menu at the Arby's inside the Pepsi Center is several times more expensive than at your average Arby's restaurant: Four regular roast beef sandwiches, four sodas and four small curly fries would cost around $50 there, and we weren't about to pay that. So as the Zamboni rolled, we shared some popcorn and reexamined the Arby's Faceoff 4-Pack ad. It did not mention that the meals were not redeemable at the arena; nor had the Tickethorse saleswoman mentioned that very important detail. The only place it was noted was at the very bottom of the meal tickets we'd picked up with our Avs tickets: "Not Valid at the Pepsi Center" written on the bottom.
Two mornings after the game -- which the Avalanche, who are off to a surprisingly good start, won 3-2 -- I called Tickethorse again, to see if Sunday's situation was an aberration. But when I asked about tickets to the November 23 game, the sales person again lauded the fact that the Arby's Faceoff 4-Pack was a "good deal" for a night out. So I asked whether the meal tickets were redeemable at the game.
"We actually don't have an Arby's at the arena," she said.
"I was just there the other night," I told her, "and there is definitely an Arby's there, but it's much more expensive than Arby's outside of the Pepsi Center."
"Oh, you can use it there, then," she assured me.
"Let me go make sure."
When she got back on the phone, she told me that she couldn't tell whether the meal tickets are good at the Pepsi Center Arby's, and since Tickethorse didn't have anything to do with the promotion, I should call the Avalanche's "guest relations" department. At that number, I was told the Avalanche had nothing to do with the promotion and I should call Tickethorse. When I said that was who I'd originally called, I was transferred to a ticket sales manager with the Avalanche.
"Arby's has chosen to do the promotion this way, driving the fans back to their stores," he said. "We try to make it as visible as possible on the website. It warns you. It's a newer package, too. It's only our second season of it, and it's about getting families to use the package. It's about eating on the way to the arena. The individual at Tickethorse should have advised you. And you can still take your family, because the meal tickets are still valid. But I'll call over and make sure [Tickethorse's] customer service reps taking the phone orders for us make it more clear."
But the Avalanche's website does not exactly "warn" you. There is an ad on the side of the page reading "Arby's Faceoff 4-Pack, $99," which leads you to a page with a list of applicable games, and the words "4 Tickets, 4 Roast Beef Classics, Small Curly Fries, 4 Small Pepsis and a $10 Altitude Authentics Gift Card for just $99." Only after you choose a game do the words "Not valid at the Pepsi Center" appear. And that language definitely doesn't appear in the newspaper ad.
When I told the sales manager I wanted an "official statement from the Avalanche," I was put in touch with Brendan McNichols at guest relations.
"I don't know a ton about the deal itself," he admitted after hearing about my experience. "I honestly thought you got fed at the game, too. I wasn't aware of that. I will pass this along and mention it to our marketing department. I don't know anything about this and will get to the bottom of this."
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This morning, I got a call from Kurt Schwartzkopf, the Avalanche's chief marketing officer. "Unfortunately, that's not my call," he said. "Could we make it more specific? We can definitely look at our process so that you're not looking at the final receipt, for lack of a better word. We'll see if we can get it more clear. Let me get with my marketing crew and see if we can make it easier on you."
A few minutes later, I noticed that "REDEEMABLE AT DENVER AREA ARBY'S LOCATIONS, NOT INCLUDING PEPSI CENTER" had been added to the Tickethorse.com page that the Avalanche's website sends you to when you click on its "Arby's Faceoff 4-Pack" ad.
The next Avalanche game when the Arby's deal is offered is November 23 against the Vancouver Canucks. But if you go for the 4-Pack, remember to stop by Arby's on your way to the game...
More from our Sports archive: "Colorado Avalanche superhero: Check out Avs entry in Stan Lee's Guardian Project (VIDEO)."