Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Potpourri

Ok. Three things in this post. First, the blog swap. Then, the weekend. Last, attendance. Thanks to DG for participating in the blog swap. His approach may have ruffled a feather or two but readers of this blog had to be entertained I'd think. I tried to entertain the DU folks in my own way and hopefully both of us will gain a few of each others readers. DG mentioned to me in an email that he thought we should make it an annual thing. I'll sure consider that but I don't know that swapping when UAA and DU were playing was the optimal situation. Maybe the scheduling gods will present us with a sweet chance next year; maybe DU will play CC the same weekend UAA plays UAF. That might be interesting. In any case, I'll defer that choice until another time. For now anyway I'll continue to hold the rudder here and leave DG to captain his vessel. Well done DG.

Disappointing is the only way to characterize the weekend. I'm certainly not disappointed in any of the effort. On Friday, the undermanned Seawolves played with courage and heart and were in the game until the end. They all deserve respect for that. On Saturday, UAA pretty much owned the Pio's (except for a disjointed 1st period). The guys showed both their talent and hard work. They bombarded the DU net and came up against a junior goaltender who's coach said "played the best game of his career". If Mannino had been average UAA could have won the game 6-1. But that didn't happen. 4 WCHA points went by the wayside. MTU is tied with UAA for 5th; UND and Wisconsin are breathing down our necks. The second half will be nothing but exciting and interesting as the team fights for their first ever WCHA home ice series. And don't for a second think it will be anything less than a fight. Bucky is the defending national champs and UND is a perennial Frozen Four participant; their coaches will have them ready. The Seawolves will need points EVERY weekend from now til the end of the regular season.

Now to answer DG's post about attendance. I won't be too hard on him but he makes some points that must be addressed. His post grew from a discussion in the UAA/DU thread this week on USCHO's fan forum (starts at post#205). Of course, this isn't the first time you've read about attendance on this blog. Just a little over a week ago I posted some thoughts about ticket pricing after seeing only 3700 people in the stands. This weekend? 3300 on Friday and 3700 on Saturday. Disappointing but somewhat expected. Holiday attendance is never great. But that's only a small part of the picture. I think we all know that a winning team will put butts in the seats. I think it's best if I take some of DG's points (and the ones made on USCHO) and address them individually.
"From listening to the UAA fans over the past couple of years, the Aces have grabbed the lead in the Anchorage market by winning and aggressively marketing. Most Athletic Departments are very weak in marketing and are more interested in fund raising and meeting budgets. DU and the Colorado Avalanche have a great relationship that includes players, administrators and coaches that have ties to both organizations.

If I was at UAA I'd be looking at ways to work with the Aces to develop junior hockey, get a first class facility built and build the hockey fan base in Alaska."
First let me say that developing junior hockey locally and UAA's attendance "woes" have no relationship whatever to each other. The two junior hockey teams in Alaska already face serious issues in their league due to location. They also play in a league who has a fairly high number of teams that are facing financial issues of their own and who's President was recently relieved of his duties unceremoniously during a weekly conference call. As entertaining and useful as having NAHL franchises in Alaska it must be noted that the league is second tier. The USHL, BCHL and AJHL are all a clear cut above the NAHL. Take a look at Chris Heisenberg's recruit list and you'll see where Division I schools primarily recruit players. It isn't the NAHL. Sure a good player here and there (even more than just a few) come out of that league. But the hard truth is that the best young players go elsewhere for juniors. DG may have been referrring to development of junior teams as some sort of way to increase hockey interest overall and thereby generate interest locally. That may have been an issue in Colorado where junior development over the last decade has begun paying dividends at the D-I level but Anchorage has a LONG history as a great hockey town as well as a long history of providing talent to D-I. It's a metric that simply doesn't apply here.

As to associations between the Aces and UAA. The Aces were born out of the desire of former UAA players to continue playing competitive hockey. So in reality the Aces owe their existence to UAA. From their inception former UAA (and UAF) players have been important assets to them. While there is no official relationship between the two entities there are some mutual behind the scenes interests that combine. From what I've seen though the Aces are historically a hit or miss operation. Unless they're competitive in the sense of having a chance to win a championship then they suffer the same attendance issues. Let's not forget they were for sale on Ebay just a couple of years ago and if not for an NHL lockout wouldn't likely have won the championship. Not to demean them in any way but can anyone say they'll even be here some years from now? UAA Hockey will be.

I stopped going to Aces games several years ago for one primary reason. It wasn't my kind of environment. First they have an asshat of an announcer that quite simply annoyed the piss out of me. Second, the fan base at Aces and Seawolf games is distinctly different. The Aces attract the white male 21-50 demagraphic that wants to pound a few beers back while watching some fights. As I mentioned in my ticket pricing post the UAA demagraphic is families. By no means are all Aces fans so inclined but more than enough are to define the environment as such. I saw a suggestion from a UAA fan on the USCHO board that mentioned amping up our announcer in some way a la the Aces. Horseshit. Lyle Woods does a perfect job. The WCHA has NO interest in having anything like a Bob "The Knob" Lester in it's rinks. I've been going to UAA games since 1984. If Bob Lester became the announcer tomorrow (mind you its never gonna happen) I'd quit going to UAA games .002 seconds after the announcement. The same poster on USCHO made a number of other suggestions that he felt would better the environment at UAA games; most of which lean toward creating more "excitement" for the fans. Back in the day (when UAA sold out regularly and was in the top 5 attendance-wise in the NCAA) there were zero such circus-like promotions. People came to the rink because it was "the place" to be. It was a mini-Mariucci where people came just as much to socialize as to watch hockey. Having better entertainment between periods or fancy light shows is all fine though; no reason not to try to improve those things if they need improving. But it ain't gonna put more butts in the seats. All that crap is just an aside. The core product is hockey. I don't choose a steak restaurant based on who has the better long island ice tea or better dessert menu. I choose it based on the quality of the meat being served.

There is no doubt that UAA's student attendance is the worst in the WCHA. Student tickets are free and anyone taking 6 credits or more can get free parking. So why don't the students come? The school is a bit of an odd duck in the WCHA. It's not a school whose primary student population lives on campus. The primary student population at UAA comes from Anchorage. Anchorage kids that choose UAA don't need on-campus housing. They live at home with mom and dad. They already have a schedule filled with social obligations and getting them to the UAA games is going to be a challenge until the arena campus is finally built. Do you think commuter students at DU go to the games? Nope. They do the things that have always interested them in their hometown. I have no doubt the student demagraphic at Magness is kids that came to DU from out of town. I base that statement on the fact that when school isn't in session the Magness has LOTS of empty seats (as do many other WCHA schools).

I haven't been to a non-hockey UAA sporting event in quite a long time. It is my impression though that quite a few hockey players have. I hope their peers have likewise attended the hockey games. Perhaps there is an opportunity to for co-marketing. Give a hundred free tickets to a sports center basketball game away at hockey games. Give a hundred free hockey tickets away at basketball games. This sort of crossover attendance could help build both fanbases. It's a suggestion that isn't by any means going to fill the Sully but an attempt to expose the fans of one sport to the other can't hurt.

So what is going to fill the Sully? I think the only solution is winning. This town's sports fans (as is true in most cities) are fickled. They want to see a winner. They'll respond to a winning team by purchasing tickets. Thats just how it is. I guarantee that if the Seawolves manage to secure a home ice playoff spot that the Sully will be full. If they do and the arena doesn't sell out I'll wear long pants. It's useful to note here that if UAA sold out every home game (6200) that they'd rank about 7th nationally. Think the Sully would only have 3300 people in it if UAA were ranked 7th in weekly polls? Methinks not. Winning cures many things.
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Note: Unless there's important news I'll be posting very little this week. You can expect a recruit update and a mid-season report card in the next seven days but otherwise I'll be on a mid-season break of sorts prior to coming back to preview the UAA/UAF series. In the meantime I'd like to reiterate something I posted back in September. It's an open invitation to anyone interested in UAA Hockey or with a differing perspective on anything I've written to email it to me and I'll post it here. You could be a parent with an embarassing or heartwarming story. Perhaps a remote fan or ex-player with an opinion. Even just someone that thinks I'm always full of shit. Send me something eh? Thanks.

17 comments:

Jimjamesak said...

Ok Donald I know you and I will disagree on some things and this is one of those cases.

First off I don't who suggested having a PA announcer like Lester, but it wasn't me. I like Lyle, he's awesome at what he does. I suggested a little amp up from him during the entrance video but that's it. **** Lester.

Second I believe that yes the Aces and UAA have different fanbases, but only the core fans of about 3000-3500 people each. The Aces have higher attendance because they have found a way to tap into the family market, lights, flash, and mascots, they've made the games an event, there's always something happening. Winning is only part of it. Winning will bring in a few hundred people for a game or two, a fun atmosphere will have them coming back. That is what UAA is lacking, they've been relying on that oldass attitude of "Well in the 90's...". They don't cater to families at all, they don't have anything to entertain people's kids and the games are kinda boring.

As for students, you can't just forget about them. They have to become part of the core fanbase. But right now the University doesn't do anything to encourage them to come out and support the team except Homecoming week. Start encouraging them to act like drunken stupid college students and things can change. It won't be easy, but at least let's try to make some progress.

Anonymous said...

JJ, please tell me what the Aces do to entertain other people's kids?

Donald said...

Infusing an apathetic student body with hockey culture can only be accomplished at the grass roots. It can't be manufactured by advertising and promotions (though those things have their place in breeding that culture).

There was plenty of nightlife in this town in the 80's and 90's to compete with UAA Hockey. There may be a different set of bars today but it isn't much different. I've enjoyed the nightlife in this town in the 80's, 90's and this millenium. It hasn't changed that much. To counter the ... there was no platinum jaxx back then argument I'll give you a list of bars that were packed on weekends in the 80's and 90's ... Pierce Street Annex ... The Underground Bar ... Club O ... Koots ... F Street (which i went to in 1986) .. even the old Rumrunners was always packed ... Darwins ... The Whaler ... The Muldoon Roadhouse (Cabin Tavern) as well as a couple of bars in Spenard that used to be packed regularly but who's names escape me (Midnight Express?). The population of this town has grown immensely over the last 15-20 years and frankly there aren't many more bars (if any) than there were in the "old days" of the 90s. The rest of the entertainment options aren't much different. I personally don't want to see the AFC drunken monkey crowd at UAA hockey games or even about half of the Aces fanbase. The knowledgable hockey fans in this town are the ones that will gravitate to the UAA games. Those are the ones with kids playing youth and high school hockey. They are the ones that played hockey themselves "back in the day". Flash, glitz and hooey won't do anything to bring them through the door. Competitive WCHA hockey will.

Filling a barn with a losing team can be done with flash and hooey. In the same way that DG put 1000 people on this blog in one day. But how many of those 1000 come back when what got them here was bullshit. Flash and hooey have their place no doubt. But it won't build a loyal fanbase. Consecutive winning seasons (which by the way we DONT have yet) will create a larger more respectable core. Marketing can seem miraculous ... you're probably too young to remember the "pet rock". Marketing made that guy rich. But such things are where phrases like "flash in the pan" come from.

The "entertainment" for kids and families is on the ice. Two brief 20 minute intermissions is enough time to get junior in and out of the can and stuff some ice cream in their mouths. If the three periods of hockey are quality (and by that I mean beating DU twice when they come to town and putting UofM on their ass and sending bucky home with their badger-tails between their legs) then people will come back.

A "competitive" team in the WCHA (one that has a shot at home ice every year) is the goal of the program. When that is accomplished then the squad will be in the polls week in and week out. That is the sort of program that will guarantee not only a sold out Sullivan arena at 6K a pop but a new arena as well with 8K or 9K a pop. Until this program is thought of in the same light as DU, Minny, Bucky and even CC there will continue to be disappointing crowds at times. But the more competitve the team becomes the more butts will be in the seats. We ain't there yet. We're taking steps in that direction and with good recruiting and the proper support for the program from the schools administaration we will get there in the next few years. As for next week and the month after ... sure sucker as many folks in with promotion and hooey. Thats fine with me.

It's rational to spend some effort to improve things and distract granny and gramps during the intermissions. I guess they've done some of that this year but I wouldn't know. I'm not in my seat between periods and never have been.

I hate to be blunt but it sounds to me as if you really believe that some sort of glitz is going to put more butts in the seats than a consistently quality competitive program on the ice. That just isn't so. They could give away a car every night and the place wouldn't fill up. But when we get to the point that they're serenading Donnie L with over-rated clap-clap-clap-clap-clap then every sports fan in town will show up.

And yeah ... if they start playing that Ole Ole shit. I'm gone. It already doesn't thrill me that the students who do show up use the DEE-FENSE stomp stomp DEE-FENSE friggin football chant.

For some sports marketing edification please refer to any perennial NFL losing franchise. Empty seats. But when those loser teams make a run ... look in their stands. It's a well documented historic pattern of sports fans. There is a core of fans regardless of the sport or team that are going to be there for their team. People like you and me and Suze ... The rest are bandwaggoners. Win consistently and get to the NCAA's year after year and the core will grow. But never forget that NO MATTER what the issue is ... the nature of loyalty as a human trait is transient. Always has been ... Always will be.

word verification for this post CRIPE ... I swear

Anonymous said...

I think this weekend they musta counted (season) ticket sales rather than fans through the gates because the place was EMPTY both nights...

I totally agree that winning will fill the seats but over the years the UAA admin. has done little to encourage a fun "college" atmosphere at the games. This has to be the only arena on earth where you aren't allowed to wave signs or banners and other fans give you dirty looks if you scream at the ref or heckle the goalie. I say bring back the Ref-o-meter, heckling signs, throw fish on the ice, serve beer in the stands and student section, encourage fans to make some noise, and make the Sully a place where opposing teams dread coming, not somewhere that they feel they are on neutral ice, not to mention a fun place to watch a hockey game...

A few avid student fans need to start their own booster club and get it sponsored by the U. Get together before the games, pound a few beers and act like roudy fools, heckle the opposing goalies, and make some noise in the Sully. They need to challenge their friends and everyone they know to come to games and have some fun giving Albers (or who ever the shitty ref happens to be) a hard time. The 80's bar list was great but who ever heard of heading to the bars before 11:00 anyway - COME TO THE GAME FIRST!

Unfortunately, many of the 3500 people who call themselves loyal fans are old Fuddy-duddies that like to sit on their hands and don't make any noise unless we score. You don't have to create an "Aces atmosphere" or have a Lester to cheer for your team... There is plenty of action - GET INTO THE GAME!

So far this season the team is on the right track. It may be a long time off before we win almost all of our games but a solid effort, close games and a winning record coupled with a fun atmosphere at the games make supporting the team much easier and will fill the seats long before the team is .900.

Donald said...

My bad for leaving the impression that I thought they had to hit .900 before the joint fills up. I was just trying emphasize that when the team is competitive in the sense of home ice in the WCHA and getting to the NCAA's that the place will be full.

It just needs to be at a point where people believe that it is "possible". Not everyone is as stupidly optimistic as I am. I've made myself believe it was possible to get home ice just about every season over the last decade. I was never right.

And I think the biggest challenge the school faces is improving the participation of student fans. I just think that process is only going to occur organically.

Who do I send my 20 bucks for a pre-game kegger that includes free bus rides for dorm students?

Jimjamesak said...

I'm not saying that flash and glitz are gonna be the only thing that is gonna bring in people. Obviously having a winning team is going to help things immensely. But in honest truth one of the biggest problems I have right now is that atmosphere is so dull and boring, part of that is only having 3000 people, but part of that is people are so concerned about watching the game that they don't cheer, they don't make noise. And to be honest that is rather embarrassing and sad. The team deserves more than that. But nobody does anything change it. Yeah some of my ideas are gonna be flash and hooey ideas that gonna bring in another 500-1000 people (yes my back hurts from the flip-flopping), but if 100 see the game and think "Hey these guys are pretty good, we gotta come back." then it's a success. Right now we're at the point where we have give a reason to come and watch because our reputation is not good and right now people still think we suck, winning seasons are not going to change that alone in my mind. Too much damage has been done.

But honestly we can't just say "Oh the students don't care so let's not bother with them." We can't do that. If we have start a grassroots program, then let's do it. Something has to be done to get into the 18-30 year old market, because if things stay the same right now in 10-15 years that booster money now is going to be gone. And that's honestly why I'm suggesting this stuff, to get people my age to come out and watch and become diehard, live and die with this team fans. It won't turn all of them into that, but if it gets 100-200 diehard student fans, then it's worth it in my mind.

And I expect to face resistance from you and others because it's such a drastic change from what's going on now and we both have different ideas of where things should be going. I ripped the athletic department for not marketing and having the atmosphere be so dull and boring and somebody asked me what I'd do. That to me is the main problem, it is just so dull and boring inside Sullivan Arena, and part of that is because the old people like it way, at least that what it seems like to me. Some of us paint our faces, and stomp our feet and yell out "DEE-Fense" and people just look at us like we have the plague. I hate that and I see why others don't come and join us. And to me it seems that no matter what the team does in the future, that if the atmosphere doesn't change, then the fanbase will not grow. We just have two completely different ideas of what will work.

Anonymous said...

JimJames, since when have games been boring? I don't know where you are sitting, but it's not boring where I am and who I'm with.

Glitz won't get anyone to come to the arena. No one thinks, "Oh I think I should go to the UAA game tonight because they are going to have a human sling shot for 6 minutes after the first period!" Either you are going for the hockey, or you aren't, it's simple. If the hockey improves, so will the fan base.

Also, I think an issue is advertising. The paper should give a game preview or a little corner announcing the upcoming game. Or the local stations should show more commercials giving dates and times. I think we would grab more people if they even knew when a game was. Believe it or not, some potential fans aren't really 'in the know'.

Anonymous said...

I know that UAA has had bad attendance for a few years now but with the team they have this year, come on anchorage wake up. The best thing for some one to do about the students get a group of people to write a couple of letters to the Northern lights, the thing college kids hate is wasting money by not going to hockey games they wast tuition money. I am not sure if this has downd on the student body so some one needs to inform them, 2 challange the student body when i was living in the dorms all 3 of my roomates were dumb and didnt understand the value of going to support there team get dorms to compeate agents eachother in period intermission compititions or have the ra's take kids to the games gett the students out there.

Jimjamesak said...

Yeah they're boring to me. I'm a 21 year old male, I'm MTV generation. I like noise, and stuff flashing before my eyes. I like up and down hockey with goals not trap and clutch and grab (Joga Bonito yo). I don't have booster room passes so I have to sit there and listen to Tanya make the puck shoot seem like watching paint dry. Glitz may not bring you to a game or make you happy but for people my age it does. We don't have a booster romm to sit in and hobknob so we want to see something fun during the intermission. You guys don't care about flashy entrance videos and lights and smoke, but we do. All you guys care about is the hockey, we want the whole **** thing.

Anonymous said...

SSSsssssHHHHhhhhh!! The game is going on....

Anonymous said...

Entertainment between periods is fine and dandy but unless you get into the game what happens between periods is not going to bring you back next time. I think creating a rockin environment during the game is the key. It makes the game a whole lot more fun to watch, motivates the players, lets the opponents know they're not welcome and is a win-win..

Unfortunatly, over the years the "game environment" has become more and more sterilized. I still believe an energized atmosphere and a close game will bring fans back but the sterilization process needs to be reversed so we can put some life back in the Sully...

I think the DJ is making a huge step in the right direction this year.. Creative music selection! But even 3500 fans should be able to make some freakin noise. Just witness at the next home game - I bet you that keg of beer (Donald) that the 3500 (or so) Seawolf fans get out cheered, out chanted, and drowned out by the 200 or so Nanook fans that are going to show up at the game - now THAT's embarrassing!

Anonymous said...

I agree that something needs to be done to get the students involved, like what MeanEgirl did at Tech. They have meetings, get the students hyped up, and it shows during games.

It takes effort, and that effort has to come from YOU JJ, or college kids your age. Us fuddy duddies ain't gonna do that. You are.

About the anon comment "This has to be the only arena on earth where you aren't allowed to wave signs or banners and other fans give you dirty looks if you scream at the ref or heckle the goalie."

I've seen signs waved around, and our seating section heckles the goalie and opposing players all the time. It's a fun section to be in. But we are sitting with the same people who have been coming to the games for the last 20 years.

"Ref-o-meter, heckling signs, throw fish on the ice, serve beer in the stands"? The ref-o-meter was fun, but it was the WCHA that made us take it down. Don't blame UAA admion for everything. And they are serving beer in one section this year. If a student made a heckling sign, they would be allowed to wave it (remember JJ and his Failure/UAF sign?) Most students are too apathetic to care.

I think having a student write a feature story for the Northern Lights would be great. I heard there was a terribly negative story written and that just propagates that "they suck" attitude. Students get in free, they have a bus to the games, they have no excuses for not showing up.

dggoddard said...

Good to see some passionate discussion, because thats the first step. We used to have discussions like this on the DU Forum all the time.

Eventually we wrote a report. Submitted it to the Athletic Department, got no response. Then a new AD came in and we resubmitted the report. A committee was formed and opened up the lines of communication between the fans and the Department.

The changes were slow to come, but Customer Service was improved at Magness, noisemakers and signs were allowed, charging for the webcasts were discontinued and students were allowed into sporting events for free (except for $70 hockey season tix) amd we now have an open door to pitch new ideas.

Anonymous said...

This is a great blog. If there was 3300 or 3600 in the building the atmosphere would be different for the home team but the actual bodies in the rink looked more like 1500-1800. That just doesn't promote energy and home ice advantage. It unfortunatly is a balloned number, maybe tickets out. Good product and up and coming team. Need actual people in the rink. Watch the game on GCI and all you see is empty seats behind the boards.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again. The seats begind the boards always look empty, even when the Aces play. Those seats suck. People sit higher up.

And the numbers were not inflated. They scan each ticket as you come in and that is how they get the count.

Anonymous said...

Great first half of the season to the team. Have really played hard. Hope they get off to a great start after christmas.

Anonymous said...

JJ, you might find the game a little bit more fun if you actually sat next to another UAA fan, or brought someone with you. You are always by yourself. I wouldn't have much fun either if I sat all by myself at each game.

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