Will East Kootenay hockey fans continue to lend their support to the Kootenay ICE?
That was one of the main questions to come out of last night’s meeting hosted by the Green Bay Committee, a local group which supports the Kootenay ICE.
President Allan Rella introduced their ‘Reach Out’ campaign to entice more season ticket sales for the club.
Part of the campaign will task residents to reach out to those who have had seasons tickets in the past but haven’t renewed, and those who haven’t bought them before but enjoy the game.
“For a community that can build a rec-plex, attract a team from Edmonton, the task of getting another 500-600 seasons tickets is doable.”
Rella says it was encouraging to see roughly 200 supporters at the meeting.
ICE attendance numbers are currently among the WHL’s lowest, and last summer’s season ticket drive which set a goal of 2,500 fell short, generating around 1,700 seasons ticket sales.
Other speakers at the meeting included Cranbrook mayor Lee Pratt and Jason Wheeldon who is a prominent figure in the Key City’s business community.
They touched on the many contributions the ICE make to the community which includes hospital visits, reading to students, attending minor hockey practices, charitable initiatives and more.
They also spoke to the team’s importance to the local economy as the generate around $5 million a year.
The recent article from the Winnipeg Free Press was also brought up.
The article alluded to rumors that the ICE could relocate to Winnipeg in time for next season.
Rella feels the team’s ownership group wants to stay put, but the community needs to show its support for the franchise to remain viable.
Pratt says the team enjoys a positive relationship with the city, but cannot be viable in Cranbrook unless attendance improves.
“Attendance is down and they need more people in the stands, it’s as simple as that,” says Pratt. “It’s a business, those businesses operate and they have to get a return on their investment. Obviously with the fan support they’re getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”
Pratt is confident the team will remain in Cranbrook if more fans start showing up to ICE games.
He adds the WHL also needs to look at what’s best for business.
“If you get the fan support then there’s no reason for the ICE to leave here,” he says. “The board of governors, you can’t hold their feet to the fire and tell somebody ‘no you can’t move’ because if you’re losing money they’re not going to force you to stay and go bankrupt.”
Wheeldon says it’s up to the community whether or not the team stays and concedes the team has seen a steady decline in attendance since the early 2000s.
“There definitely is a lack of community support and we’re hoping the community is going to come down to it,” says Wheeldon. “It’s not truly a question about the ICE leaving, the question should be to our community, are we ready to support a WHL franchise?”
Wheeldon adds the team’s departure would leave a gap in the local economy, but what would be missed most is the hockey club’s efforts in volunteering and charitable initiatives.
“There’s $5 million to $7 million in economic benefit here, but I look more at the intangibles, the fabric in the community, bringing out 10% of our population to one roof and networking and being a community and sharing that spirit. The ICE is part of our community.”
The committee plans to discuss their campaign further at a meeting next week.
To purchase tickets through the campaign, contact marketing director John Hudak at 250-489-9646 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, the hockey club is also offering prorated seasons tickets.
More information can be found here.
– Allan Rella – President, Green Bay Committee – Full Interview
– Lee Pratt – Mayor of Cranbrook
– Jason Wheeldon – Prominent Figure in Cranbrook’s Business Community, Royal LePage East Kootenay Realty