Thursday, April 23, 2009

UAA Takes 1st Step To Improve Attendance

Former Seawolf Derek Donald has been hired by UAA as Assistant Director of Marketing and Promotions. This press release from UAA announced to move earlier in the week. This article in the Anchorage Daily News expands some on Derek's new role.

First, welcome back to Derek. He was one of the most tenacious players to ever don a Seawolf sweater. He knew how to get the puck on somebody else's stick for a goal and he knew how to put the puck in the net. His skills on the ice earned him a spot in the Seawolf Hall-of-Fame; one of seven hockey players to be so honored.

For several years Seawolf fans on the Internet have been calling for the University to do something specific with regard to putting more butts in the seats. Hiring Derek is the 1st (and perhaps biggest) step toward achieving that goal.

We fans today are lucky enough to have the most talented group of Seawolf hockey players in the schools history. Yet, we go to the rink every other weekend and are lucky to see 4,000 other fans there?

Derek will have to be creative and apply the same tenacity as a player to improve attendance. In the early 90's the team had no competition for the hockey entertainment dollar. But then former Seawolf players hungry to continue playing competitive hockey started the Anchorage Aces. 15 years later Seawolf hockey plays second fiddle in this town.

I think there are two reasons for that. The biggest reason is that the ECHL is a fighting league. A quick reference to a random selection of Aces home boxscores shows an average of nearly 2 fights per game (some had as many as 5 fights). The casual fan can toddle over there and watch gong-show hockey pretty much any night. Sure there are some good players and not every game is filled with goonery. But the possibility that goonery will happen is there and casual hockey fans respond to that. Who is one of the most beloved Aces of all-time? Chad Richards. I know Chad. He's told me more than once exactly what his job was with the Aces and every other pro team he played for. Pretty much every ECHL team has 2 of that sort of player. But that isn't what college hockey is about.  The 2nd less important reason is the availability of alcohol.

These days the alcohol issue shouldn't be a factor. You can get beer in your seat now at Seawolf games. You have to sit in a specific section but that's the case at Aces games as well. The UAA beer section is small compared to the Aces "wet side". But I see no reason that the Seawolves can't expand the section. Other WCHA rinks allow it arena-wide.

The bigger problem is what faces Derek. I don't think you are going to attract the Carhart-wearing beer-drinking crowd to UAA hockey games. I don't think we want those yahoos at our games anyway, do we? But there is a large group of hockey fans that don't come to UAA games; the folks whose kids play hockey in this town. There is a strong hockey culture in Anchorage that spans the gamut from house leagues to comp hockey at every age group. On any given night during the high school season you'll find 1,500 fans right next door at Ben Boeke. If Derek can find a creative way to involve that part of the Anchorage hockey community then the days of full houses at the Sully could return.

It is a daunting task but focusing on people that appreciate hockey for the beauty and excitement of the game and forgetting about Joe-Sixpack is the perhaps the first way to proceed. I hope every Seawolf fan gives Derek their support in filling up the Sully. As Derek told the Daily News ... "The players deserve it."


Anonymous said...

welcome back derek donald, great guy, he dealt with the aces bankruptcy mess. he can sure help us with our attendance mess

Runninwiththedogs said...

This is so exciting!!!! I hope the guys understand who they've got in their corner now!

akhockeyfanatic said...

such great news! I am even more excited for the season to begin. this will be your year, Seawolves!!

seawolvesfan said...

Just what we need to pack the Sully for Seawolves games, well at least a very sturdy first step to a real college hockey experince at the Sully. Too much has the boys played in front of crickets,(wait not even crickets-cuz at least they make noise) the boys responeded well if front of the larger arena's in the WCHA and promptly had a better record on the road then home. But remember his job isn't limited to the hockey department so this upcoming season is going to be better attendence wise but the year after that will even be bigger. If the small ass town of Grand Forks can fill a 11,000 seat arena the HUGE ANC can fill a 6,406 seat Sully. Great move with little or no possible backlash-great move by Steve Cobb or whoever hired him.

Anonymous said...

Derek has to right 25 years of horrificly bad decisions regarding the treatment of local players by the program. There are always tough decisions to make as a coach but there is a right way and a wrong way to handle people and the first thing Donald needs to do is get a grasp on how big the image problem is and how to be a part of fixing it. This is also going to have to be a collective effort by the A.D. and the Coaches. Its a fact that the local hockey community is completly dissatified and doesnt except locals being slighted. In fact is they quit showing up and this is one of the true test of how bad its been. Past issues of so many disgruntled alumni who pass there experiences to the parents, players, and Coaches who walk into a hockey rink have taken a devastating toll creating a image problem that is going to take a long time to fix. There is nothing more important than graduating Seniors talking about good things and a positive experience after they leave the program. Until this is not lip service but a fact with the overall majority of people assosiated with the program the Marketing to the local hockey community will be met with alot of obstacales to overcome. One thing for sure is that its a huge move in the right direction hiring Donald as he has earned a tremendous amount of respect in the local hockey community and if any one can resesitate a program with an image problem its him..

Anonymous said...

The first step has been taken in hiring a local person who understands the image problem.
The next step is for the team to have a winning season, so not only we can have local players want to play on the team, but players from out of state to be successful here and praise our program.
We will have a good team on the ice, fan support will increase with a winning team.
All the best next year.

be positive

puckdangler said...

Welcome back Derek! What a great move for UAA. I grew up watching derek play for the Seawolves, and he was always one of my favorites. He was smaller, but he was one of the most tenacious skaters I've ever seen. Hopefully, he can help bring back the fans. When I came back to AK in 2005 to go to school at UAA, I was really saddened by the sparse crowds at the Sully. When I was a kid, the crowds were really electric at games. This talented group of Seawolves deserves the support of a full house.

Donald Dunlop said...

So UAA has been fucking up local kids since 1984?

I'd disagree. Sure there have been some dissatisfied local players. But dissatisfied players leave programs all over D1 hockey. Has UAA had more of that than others with regard to local kids?

Perhaps, but I place the biggest recent problems directly in Mr. ThisIsMyDreamJob's lap (and everyone said don't hire Dennis Sorenson??? We shoulda hired Dennis instead of that pussy Hill ... ).

John Hill set this program back locally by bailing on it. Talafous just never really tried anything locally. Shyiak inherited it all. And if you evaluate player's talent from top to bottom you see the most talented roster since Derek played here. And it's going to improve over the next couple of seasons.

Your overall point that Derek must engage the local hockey community is primary. That will help both attract local elite talent and put more butts in the seats.

Anonymous said...

With Derek to focus soley on hockey it will really help the A.D. department and its a very good move to get him in there. We need excitement, a band, the College attending and careing and yes we need a winning team not 9th or 1oth place. So hopefully things will continue to rise on the ice because if they dont that will make his job that much harder.

Anonymous said...

Do people really think that he'll make a difference this coming year? in 2-3 years? Or is it too little, too late to be doing this?

Anonymous said...

The team was so close to success last year, curfew issue and not enough seniors. This year will be different, this group has something to prove, they have the skill and toughness also. Three top end scorers, solid defense, and two proven goaltenders. These lads will not make the same mistakes as last year. With a winning season fans will come out in droves, marketing is important to the success of any teams future.

Anonymous said...

The Bales thing needs to be rectified he is a Senior and deserves to be taken care of. He would be a top two line forward next year including the best passer for the powerplay. He cant just be replaced by a freshman or "maybe some one else".Every time you have continual unknowns then it creates voids that grow into holes. We need him.

wolfman said...

Maybe he can help donors with giving for a new arena?? Not sure if it has anything to do with butts in seats though.

Anonymous said...

What is "the Bales thing?"

Anonymous said...

Good for UAA to try something new to fill some seats...Here are some ideas....Have Donald attend on a regular basis every civic event in Anc...( Chamber lunches, RDC, Alliance, Rotary,
ACVB, and more ) Have vouchers for games always with him to give out to try and get new people to attend a game...If they go once and see a quality program with entertainment value they will go back again.( BRING BACK THE BAND )..The UAA coaches/players must get out into the Anc hockey community to promote..The coaches/players could give hockey clinics to the different youth leagues...In return the leagues and teams agree to attend so many games with their teams each year...Check them off and get a sign up sheet for each team in each league..That is 20 plus people per team per game...
Maybe have Donald bring a player to some of the civic lunches to introduce to the business world..
Good exposure for the prgram and for the player who will make some good Anc business contacts.. Let the people at the table hear the players story and what it takes to play D 1 hockey... Good luck to Donald...

akhockeyfanatic said...

I live out in the Valley and the Blueliners hooked me up with some free tickets last season. I took them to work and gave them away via the hospital-wide email. Poof! They were gone just like that. Once you've attended a game, you will be a supporter for life. It happens to the best of us. :) But you are so right....gotta get the people there first and keep them coming. Band, good music, a fun announcer, and great give-aways during the periods would help. The one thing we can always count on now is GREAT HOCKEY which keeps me coming back every other week.

Anonymous said...

The business community must become involved, junior a teams across the country in canada each year have a dinner at the start of the year to introduce all the players and coaches. Talk about past sucess stories. Sell tables to organizations and get them to buy a ticket package for their staff.
I am sure Donald will doe well, this postion is long overdue.
The players play to capacity full rinks when they are on the road.
Adding another 1000 to 1500 fans per game will instill confidence in our players and the program.

Anonymous said...

Aces are filling the sully for the aces vs victoria series. I really don't care whether they are the same fans or not. When I go to grand forks they drink beer there, the younger people watch the hockey, hockey fans are hockey fans. Next year uaa will have the best team in years. There is no reason fans can not have two winning teams in Anchorage. A echl and a wcha winner, would that put anchorage on the hockey map. Good for tourism and good for the city. What a opportunity we have next year, lets not blow it.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the Aces are not filling the Sully. They were 2000 short on Friday and 1000 short on Saturday. And all WCHA teams do NOT sell out every game either. There are some who struggle with attendance just as UAA does.

I hope Derek can find a way to get the students there and fill up that section. Some colleges give PE credit to students for attending hockey games, so you've got to get creative. I feel Derek is a perfect choice for this position.

Anonymous said...

A lot of aces fans go for a beer and a fight and in a drunken state bid hundreds to thousands of dollars for a one series piece of shit jersey. And pay for overpriced hockey that happens to be winning. I am happy for them, but they don't skate every game and play "till the tanks on empty" every game of the year.
Derek will bring in some fans and sponsors to help fill the stands and as far as local kids playing for UAA only the blue chip players are scouted and recruited. Most Kids want to leave home and play college hockey and drink beer in somebody else’s back yard.
The Coaches have one of the hardest jobs in the WCHA bring kids north or trying to get them to stay home and play. My hat’s off to them all. UAA campus is like a trailer court compared to most college campuses.

btw Donald thank you again for all you do with your of the best in college hockey....
You are the King

Anonymous said...

To Anon 4/26/09 7:33 am ~

Read comments starting on 4/16 under "An Important Off-Season for WCHA" (below) for some insight into the "Bales thing".

Anonymous said...

Um...if Derek was hired as Assistant Director of Marketing and Promotions, who is Director?? Apparently some overpaid person who isn't doing his/her job very well????

Donald Dunlop said...

Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs is Tim McDiffett. I doubt Tim has much time outside of his 40 hour work week + attending events. He has 9 kids.

Anonymous said...

"Um...if Derek was hired as Assistant Director of Marketing and Promotions, who is Director?? Apparently some overpaid person who isn't doing his/her job very well????

I am guessing it was Cobb who wasn't doing his job and McDiffett can barely work the 40 hrs required of him. Both should go and get other jobs and we should get a D1 person in who can generate some revenue!

Donald Dunlop said...

Most D1 athletic departments probably lose money. I doubt that making money is high on anyone's list at UAA. And that's as it should be.

Athletics at the University level exist primarily for the benefit of student-athletes. Secondarily they create pride throughout the rest of the school and entertainment for the community.

Just think about how many sports that schools sponsor across the country that are completely devoid of any chance to produce revenue. Think anyone pays to watch rifle shooting? How many people show up to watch NCAA skiing?

Big schools with football have pressure to produce revenue and that pressure is what has fucked up that sport. Greedy schools have created a mess in D1 basketball as well. Everyone wants their piece of the March Madness pie. And it was that rush for money that caused the NCAA to stop any new schools from "playing up" to a D1 sport.

It's nice if a sport makes a couple of bucks that can be plowed back into the athletic departments but generally it isn't required (especially at state schools like UAA or UAF).

Sports are the first things to be cut at ritzy private schools when those schools feel a budget pinch. Thank god that isn't the case at state schools. I suppose some state schools overreach but that definitely isn't the case at UAA with only 8 sports.

Attendance at UAA hockey needs to improve but that isn't because the bottom line isn't cutting it. It's because the players deserve to have more support.

McDiffett has worked in the athletic department forever. I've no doubt he bleeds green and gold. I wouldn't advocate that he be replaced. As for Cobb, his performance is well documented in the standings of the "Directors Cup" (or whatever it's called). There is one sport that could be considered an underperformer and that is Volleyball. The rest are performing at high levels and are competitive.

I'd give Cobb higher marks than any AD that's been at UAA. He got rid of Talafous ... he hired the guy that everyone wanted (Hill) and when Hill bolted he fixed the problem within a couple of weeks by hiring Shyiak. As far as I'm concerned Cobb and McDiffett can stay in their jobs until they decide to retire. They've both earned it. Do I wish McDiffett had done more over the last few years with regard to hockey attendance? Yes. But the world isn't perfect.

It's certainly ok for Cobb-haters to express themselves here (free speech and all that). But don't expect that I won't defend him. Because until and unless he truly fucks something up he deserves it.

seawolvesfan said...

"The membership of the WCHA has put Bemidji State's bid on hold, pending an "aggressive" pursuit of a 12th team."

seawolvesfan said...

read more in the MORE FROM CHN AFFILIATED widget

Donald Dunlop said...

My hope is that the push for 12 teams is an indication that a future WCHA schedule would have a 22 game schedule versus the cumbersome 28 game schedule.

My choice for 12th team (assuming Bemidji is 11) would be Alabama-Huntsville. I prefer them to UNO and NMU. NMU is a worse road trip than UAH and UNO is just a mess of a school who I don't think really supports their hockey program. UAH has a LONG history that UNO doesn't.

dggoddard said...

College hockey programs that draw big crowds have built a "brand image" that draws fans based on the name on the front of the jersey not the back.

The ECHL has fighting (WWE), college hockey has pageantry. Build the student section, get a band in there, goose up the atmosphere.

Picture a USC football game. The Trojans draw huge crowds in LA despite some of the fiercest competition for the entertainment dollar. You have to sell the collegiate experience.

Its going to take tons of 80 hour weeks to build the UAA hockey brand, but it can be done if someone is passionate enough.

Donald Dunlop said...

There are probably 500,000 USC alumni in Los Angeles. Many many folks in Anchorage have attended UAA at some point but the vast majority of them were part-time commuter students.

Anchorage has an odd population. Most everyone here came from somewhere else.

It's long been a goal of the school and booster club to make/keep the UAA hockey atmosphere "family friendly". While that's admirable, the truth is that the families just aren't there in big numbers. They are there ... don't get me wrong. But they're more likely on a typical Friday/Saturday night to be next door watching their kids play high school hockey.

Perhaps Derek can work with the high school folks so that the two don't compete? I really don't know what if anything UAA can do in those terms to convince the high schools that it's in their interest in any way.

As for the band, many are advocating/working on that. I don't know that it will necessarily attract anyone to the rink. Perhaps. The students definitely need to be involved but there again there just isn't a large resident population in the dorms. Even so, the representation from campus residents is poor.

UAA athletes participate to a large degree in building community relations with "reading" programs and the like. The school also sponsors a couple of significant events (a popular marathon and the famous Crow Creek race). Visibility in the community is pretty good.

It's going to be tough sledding. Derek is likely (as you say) to work some 80 hour weeks. He'll need to engage the local hockey community first I think. What 11 year old kid playing hockey wouldn't want to attend UAA games on the weekends? Very few wouldn't. Give them passes. Someone mentioned above that Derek ought to be out and about doing just so. I agree.

But I will always come back to the position that if the team wins more games that the fans will show up. The next couple of years is going to be key. Two more years of high expectations that fail to come to fruition isn't going to help. Shyiak et al have to get over the hump that we've so long talked about.

There is some "chicken or egg" in that though. More fans and the team will play better; if the team plays better then more fans will show up.

Anyhow ... like I said, we'll know a lot more in two seasons.

Anonymous said...

A Chicago Blackhawk player said that "the atmosphere in the arena created by their fans" sure helped with their win the other night over the Flames. You cannot help but get pumped when your fans are cheering you on. That does not mean only winning teams deserve this. A fan is a fan. Support the team in your college community. They deserve it. The fan support in some other arenas sure is inspiring. They are there to watch great hockey. Great entertainment for the family and friends. I do have to say that being at the Sully was great as well. Some great fans too. Just not enough of them. Have a great summer boys. Hope to see most of you back in August.

Anonymous said...

If you want to attact top end recruits we need to fill the sully.
Players that receive d1 scholarship offers usually have more than one university to choose from, we will have a winning team next year, there will be no excuses for the fans to not come out.


Anonymous said...

It's good to see Derek & his family back in Alaska and better yet, back with the Seawolves!

I think he's an excellent choice since he's not only familiar with the Seawolves program, but his years in the Aces management will give him a unique perspective of a city who shares one arena with two hockey teams.

You have to admit - part of the reason for a decline in UAA attendance is a direct result of the Aces success over the past 4 - 5 years. I think it's a combination of the following:

- Dismal marketing of team
- Sharing fan base w/winning ECHL team
- Off campus arena
- Current arena in dire need of facelift
- Economy (to some degree)

I really think Marketing is the #1 thing lacking. Who's Tim Mc-what's his face at the AD? Didn't know we had "Tim with AD".

hockeyfanatic asked about Blueliner ticket contests. Did they do that this past season? The season before this last one, they were running contests weekly it seems.

There were numerous events at UAA (during hockey season) where they were giving our door prizes to the families & guests of the students in attendance. The types of things they were giving away were Mooses Tooth certificates, movie tickets, etc. - but not ONCE did they hand out Seawolf hockey tickets! I asked the staff about this and they said they'd remedy the problem but from what I witnessed - they spaced it out at each event that followed. (Chalk that up to poor marketing I guess?)

As much as I love the 10pm replay of the game on GCI, I wonder if it only adds to the attendance problem?

In any event, I'm happy to see DD at the Marketing helm! I know for a fact that he appreciates input, so I hope that UAA allows an avenue for fans to submit their thoughts to him.

He'll do a great job!


sitkafan said...

I really think that UAA needs to start having some better TV commercials. I remember watching them and felt like a four year old, and that is who we should not be marketing it too. They should throw in a few shots of some hits, saves, and goals, along with Dave shouting at the refs and have either 36 Crazyfists or Static Cycle for background music. Hell, get either one of those two local bands to play or just even show up to a game would be sweet.

Start some good marketing with KWHL and the Edge, rather than having them put down UAA.

I agree with Michelle, all five of those are real reasons why UAA's numbers are down. But it all begins with marketing and getting the fans in the stands, after that, it would be up to UAA to perform, which looks like they will be able to do next season.

seawolvesfan said...

Intresting points Anon and SitkaFan

For those Static Cycle fans, how bout the song Take You Back,(just chorus though) during the upcoming season commercials? Or the beg. of 36's At the End of August, The All Night Lights, or better yet We Gave it Hell?

listen 2 Take You Back by Static Cycle:

sitkafan said...

Donald, just a thought, possibly add the blueliners link to your blog? Granted I can navigate my way through the goseawolves site to find it, but again, just a thought.

Donald Dunlop said...

Do they have a website?

The only thing I know of is a page on UAA's website that links to a membership PDF and their email address.

Since I'm not a member I tend to stay away from advocating anything with regard to them. I don't give them any money ... what they do with their money isn't any of my business.

I do promote their events.

Anonymous said...

While your at it add a link to the Alumni Website!!!

Anonymous said...

Getting a 20 or 30-piece pep band and getting somebody to write an actual, honest-to-god fight song is a good start toward improving the atmosphere. Generating some student zeal and forming a student section is the next step.

May not do anything to increase attendance immediately, but it will at least differentiate the product.

Nothing about UAA hockey screams "college hockey" right now. It's like the Aces-lite. :-(

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