, Salem, MA

January 25, 2013

Free sports tickets may get the boot

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Good intentions and modern lifestyles are combining to make an intolerable situation for ticket takers serving Peabody High School sports. It’s bad enough that the School Committee is acknowledging a need to re-examine current policies.

“Our ticket takers don’t make a lot of money,” athletic director Phil Sheridan said during a recent meeting of the School Committee, “and they get yelled at constantly.”

It’s the public doing the yelling, he said, and their complaints are largely sparked by a department policy dating from 2007 and meant to give free passes to parents of athletes. The system has produced multiple problems, according to Sheridan.

“What we’re running into now,” he said, “is the blended family. Mom will come in with her new husband, and they want to get in for free. And then dad will come in with his new wife, and they want to get in for free, too. And we get yelled at.”

In addition, he said, parents sometimes give their tickets to the kids, who aren’t eligible. Or they leave the tickets at home and expect to get in anyway.

“There’s possible fraud,” said board member Brandi Carpenter, who had asked for the report on gate receipts. “Because they can just duplicate the tickets.”

The problem seems particularly troublesome at the McVann-O’Keefe Memorial Skating Rink, a facility actually owned by the state, which demands a percentage of the gate sales. Thus, when parents attend hockey games for free, Sheridan said, the rink still expects a share of that $7 ticket price. (Adults pay $5 at football games and $4 at basketball games.)

While stressing that he does not oppose the spirit of the free ticket policy, Sheridan estimated that it was responsible for $4,000 in lost revenue. He showed more concern, however, about the abuse the staff has had to take because of it.

“It’s a situation where the best-laid plans have gone astray,” board member Dave McGeney said. “We’re not trying to hit the parents again, but somehow this has to be made up.”

The rationale for providing the free ticket is fairness. In most cases, parents have already contributed a substantial fee in order for their kids to play sports.

Member Dave Charest was quick to acknowledge this.

“I think we need to keep in mind that the parents are paying,” he said, adding, “I do believe we need to look at this.”

“It wouldn’t be fair to ask the parents to give up their free tickets,” Carpenter said.

“Obviously, it isn’t working if people are yelling at ticket takers,” member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne said.

“If we didn’t charge at the gate, we’d have higher user fees,” member Jarrod Hochman said.

Member Tom Rossignol noted another unfairness — that the fees paid by students in programs like track and cross country far exceed the amount needed for those sports and thus are used to offset the cost of expensive sports like football and hockey. “A basketball game should basically cost us nothing.”

There were questions about the fact that some activities at the skating rink are free. For example, Carpenter pointed out that Bishop Fenwick High School was recently able to play at the rink, and no fee was charged.

“Was it Merry Christmas?” she asked.

Sheridan explained that he’d been told, “Bishop Fenwick’s ice hockey team is not considered a varsity team yet.” Consequently, it was not charged. He was careful to note, “We have a terrific relationship with the rink management.”

Despite the difficulties and relatively low ticket prices, Sheridan said he’s already reached his goal of $18,000 in gate receipts with a few games yet to come.