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.
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.