Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday morning homily IV

All last week, we thought we'd be attending the Sabres-Lightning game last night, courtesy of Art Pier, a Lightning ticket rep who promised to make good on a horrible home opener experience. Instead, we watched at home as the Sabres won, 3-2, in an exciting shootout.

Earlier this month, on somewhat of a whim, I bought an upgraded package -- two club-level tickets, a parking pass, and two hot dogs and sodas -- for the Lightning's home opener against the New Jersey Devils. The cost for a boys' night out: $140.

When I picked up the package early on game day, it lacked a parking pass. The ticket clerk, unfortunately, had no idea about it, suggesting that we tell the parking attendant that our package included free parking, even though we lacked the pass. Yeah, right, that will work. The clerk also had no information about the food and drinks.

Combined, that was Strike 1.

Strike 2 came as we tried to enter the St. Pete Times Forum later that day. Our tickets, we were told, were reprints, meaning we were, at the moment, being denied admission. The turnstile attendant directed us to the box office, suggesting we get in line so we could explain our plight. One look at the snaking line, and we immediately went to the Will Call table. In about 10 minutes, we got tickets that granted admission.

Once inside, we went about trying to find a concession stand that honored the coupons for the hot dogs and sodas. Only until we asked a third person did we find the proper concession stand. That, I'm afraid, was Strike 3. Once there, though, a worker, unfamiliar with the package, said we didn't have the stub for the food. A supervisor, recognizing that we did indeed have the stub, quickly resolved matters.

The next morning, I called Pier, the ticket rep, to share our less-than-pleasant experience from the night before. It was his suggestion that he would make it up to us by offering free tickets to an upcoming game. I quickly agreed, saying it would salvage a sinking business relationship and picked the Sabres-Lightning game. No problem, he said.

Last Monday, upon Pier's suggestion, I called back, leaving a message to remind him that we'd picked the Sabres-Lightning game. He called back, leaving a message saying, again, that it wouldn't be a problem for the tickets, including an extra one for the Missus.

I called back Tuesday, telling Pier, in another message, that I'd be in Tampa on Wednesday and Thursday, making it convenient for me to pick up the tickets either day. Pier never returned the call.

On Wednesday, I again called Pier -- following the principle that a squeaky wheel usually gets grease -- leaving yet another message reminding him of our opening night inconveniences, his promise and the convenience of getting the tickets either that day or Thursday. I also asked whether this was the way he and the Lightning operated. That call, much to my surprise, was never returned.

Thankfully, we have other contacts within the Lightning's ticket operations, namely Amanda Graul, the director of client services. I left a message -- actually it was more of a subdued rant -- explaining what had happened. More than anything else, I wanted the name of Pier's supervisor so I could share my experience of dealing with him.

Within 30 minutes, Amanda called back, genuinely apologizing for what had happened, though she had no role in this fiasco.

She, too, promised to make good. Having had nothing but positive experiences with her, I have no doubts that Amanda will deliver. More than that, she's someone I can trust. And trust is what solid business relationships are built upon.

Granted, with economic conditions and cost-cutting measures, including 5 percent pay cuts and layoffs, at my employer prompting us to cut back on discretionary purchases, we're not the Lightning's biggest customers. After attending 20-plus games each season for the past two years, we'll scale back to, perhaps, a half-dozen games.

Still, though, successful businesses treat each customer as if he is the most important customer -- no matter how small or big the deal. Some people -- like Amanda Graul -- get it. Some don't. Going forward, we all know who I'll be dealing with.

Trouble brewing?

From what I hear, frictions may be growing between the Westin Harbour Island hotel and a handful autograph dealers. Hotel personnel routinely place barriers -- in interests of safety and limiting our access -- to keep dealers and hounds from gathering near the hotel's front doors.

It seems, though, those lines may have been crossed Thursday with the San Jose Sharks in town. Because I wasn't there at the time, I have to rely upon those who were there to witness some dealers, despite hotel staff's admonishments, jumping the rope to get autographs. Needless to say, the hotel staff wasn't too pleased.

Though nothing happened -- as in the dealers being asked then to leave the property or the calling of authorities -- those who followed the rules at game time weren't given any warnings.

What's going to happen? That's hard to tell. We'll get an answer, though, the next time a team stays there, attracting the attention of this group of dealers. Hopefully, it won't escalate to where we're all kept away from the hotel.

5 Big Sigs

Technically speaking, there are two teams headed to Hockey Bay this week -- the Ottawa Senators and the New Jersey Devils. I'm thinking, though, that I'll hound only the Senators, as Colin has a hockey game a few hours before the Devils game on Halloween.

With that in mind, and it could be subject to change, here's what I'm hoping to add:

~ Jonathan Cheechoo on a Senators puck (got him on a card instead, as my puck order arrived a day too late);
~ Milan Michalek on a Senators puck (got him on some cards instead);
~ Pacal Leclaire on Blue Jackets and Senators pucks (also got him on a card instead);
~ Jason Spezza on a McFarlane base (got him on a Brampton Battalion puck instead); and
~ Nick Foligno on a couple of cards from specialty sets.

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