Cougars can’t get fans in seats
When a team is struggling on the ice and at the gate, meagre attendance will always be a main issue.
Without a consistent fan base, a team is usually forced to move to another city. This is a simple formula, and not that complicated to figure out. The question becomes how many (paid) fans are needed to keep a team viable?
The Prince George Cougars have been stuck in a rut. The woeful on-ice performance has certainly not helped to fill the seats, but the team needs to find a niche to win back customers.
Of the 36 regular season home dates, the Cougars know only three of them will attract a big crowd (in excess of 4,000). This includes: opening night, closing night and Teddy Bear night. Unfortunately, on the other 33 nights at CN Centre, attendance will generally range from 1,300 to 2,100, which is the lowest in the WHL, and not near enough to pay the bills.
In an attempt to boost the gate, and create a fourth “special” night, the Cougars went all out with a promotion never before offered to the general public: 2-for-1 tickets for last Saturday’s home game against Portland. Marketplace was filming that night as part of a national story that involves tracking the Cougars (and Canadians) and their nutritional intake. Obviously, the more seats filled, the better it would reflect on the team.
I was curious whether the gamble of the 2-for-1 offer would work. It should be noted that each season ticket holder, to make sure they were not snubbed, was given a free extra ticket for that game as well. In addition, there was bonus hype for the game on the radio and in the media, almost to the point that the Friday Portland-P.G. game (won by the Winterhawks 6-2 with attendance 1,773) was ignored.
Naturally, there was a risk to the promotion. If not successful, what message would it send about the interest in the Cougars locally when the top ranked team in the CHL visits and the tickets are 2-for-1?
If successful, perhaps the fans will still come to the game, but only if the $20 adult ticket price is reduced, which clearly isn’t an option.
“You have to be so careful when you discount tickets it’s not something we’re going to be able to do on a regular basis. I say this all the time that when you give away a ticket you’ve established the value of that ticket which is zero dollars and we don’t want to get into that kind of a position,” said Cougars Vice President Brandi Brodsky.
As it turned out, there was an announced crowd of 2,779 for that Feb 23 game, with Portland winning 6-1. In other words, there were 1,000 more fans at the game than the previous night, which can be encouraging on one hand, but on the other, projections were below the target levels, with CN Centre still less than half full.
There are always reasons or excuses for a lack of turnout: dislike of ownership and/or management; lack of competitiveness on the ice, especially against a powerhouse; or just plain apathy. However, the Cougars had the Prince George sports spotlight completely to themselves on that night.
The Spruce Kings were out of town and the UNBC basketball teams had already completed their season. Moreover, there wasn’t a one-time special event elsewhere in the city like a boxing card (which will happen Saturday, March 2 at the Roll-A-Dome) and, as a bonus, the Vancouver Canucks were not playing on TV.
To create a better atmosphere in the building, the Cougars need to attract more spectators. Yes, “free” tickets would accomplish that, but no business, in any line of work, can afford to give away their product. This is a classic case of a Catch-22 and the problem remains that in order for the team to continue to reside in Prince George, a quick solution is needed.
Edwin Louis Cole once stated, “You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there.”
The Cougars are just trying to stay afloat, season by season, and that becomes more difficult as the tidal waves get bigger and bigger.
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Hartley Miller is the sports director for radio stations 94X and the Wolf@97fm. He also writes for hqprincegeorge.com. Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on twitter: @Hartley_Miller