01/25/2013 1:51 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – As the National Hockey League was beginning its truncated season last Saturday night, the Hamilton Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies were squaring off in the latest chapter of the American Hockey League’s Battle of Ontario before a sold-out crowd at Copps Coliseum.
The Marlies rallied with a late third-period goal to post a 3-2 win via shootout before a crowd of 8,819 that pushed the Bulldogs’ attendance to 107,503 through 17 home dates for an average of 6,324, good for ninth in the 30-team AHL.
That number includes a sellout for the home opener, a 4-1 win over the Marlies on October 19th, a crowd of 10,649 that took in a school day game against the Rochester Americans on November 14th, the 8,034 that saw a 6-3 win over the Marlies on November 16th and the 18,582 that took in a game against the Syracuse Crunch at the Bell Centre in Montreal on November 9th.
The Bulldogs averaged 4,848 over 38 home games in 2011-2012.
“We didn’t change anything we were doing in terms of how we approached this season whether there was a lockout or not,” Bulldogs president Stephen Ostaszewicz said recently. “The AHL sells development as opposed to marketing specific players. We know there is a risk to tying a campaign to a specific player. There is no doubt that we have had a great success over the first half from an attendance and revenue perspective and a general interest perspective. All of our numbers are up across the board.”
The Bulldogs, who had a total of eight home games in December and January, play nine of their 12 games in February at home. In addition to those games the Bulldogs will host the Americans at Montreal on February 22nd and make two trips to Toronto to face the Marlies.
“February is tough because we have nine home games,” said Ostaszewicz, who joined the club last June. “I have been working with Marc Boria, our vice president of sales and marketing, to come up with several different pricing strategies for the month of February to ensure that we continue at the level we are at and to continue to grow. We feel this market can sustain crowds of between five and seven thousand fans on a regular basis.
“It is an aggressive home schedule. We’re just getting into the thick of the hockey season. With football coming to an end soon, the focus is now on hockey, it’s cold and snowy outside and people are more engaged. The end of the lockout changes the competitive landscape in the AHL as many teams have lost their best players to the NHL.”
Ostaszewicz said the club’s tiered pricing strategy has been a success and the club would be unveiling a February flex pack similar to the one it offered in December.
“The Christmas flex pack was a huge success. We’re going to price it in all three zones and it will be nine games plus one, that extra game being our season finale. We want to have a sellout for that game, just as we did for the season opener.”
Ostaszewicz said fans can expect to see other ticket initiatives as well.
“We have brought on board Fortinos, the supermarket chain, which will be having a half-price blue ticket offer that will be launching at the beginning of February and will be exclusive to the Fortinos stores in the Hamilton, Burlington and Stoney Creek areas. We’ll have different opportunities through sites like WagJag and Ticketmaster.
“We are seeing an increase in interest. I think we are in good shape for those February games. We have been trying to ascertain what the buying pattern is of our fans. That’s hard to predict, so we have been more aggressive, whether it’s our sales team calling people more frequently and reaching out to our season ticketholders to see if they will bring groups to our building. We recognize that group sales are the lifeblood of the AHL.”
Ostaszewicz said the club’s community-based approach has paid dividends.
“We have tried to make ourselves an integral part of the community aside from our normal Bulldogs Foundation activities, whether it’s the summer festival tour or community skates or practices. We added a practice in March because of the demand.”
Ostaszewicz said the business side of the organization is moving in the right direction.
“From a business perspective, from where I want us to be as an organization, we are not quite where we need to be, but we are getting closer. From a result standpoint we are ahead of plan and that’s a testament to the people outside this office who have worked diligently to get people in the building on a consistent basis.
“I will always be striving for more, I have never been happy with the status quo. I don’t measure myself where they were last year or the year before. My standards are very high. I am pleased with what we have achieved, but we are only as good as our last game.”
Ostaszewicz said he hasn’t been fielding as many questions regarding the club’s future from fans or the corporate community since the December announcement that the HECFI board would continue negotiating a lease with the Bulldogs instead of considering a competing offer from a club in the Ontario Hockey League.
“I’m not seeing it as much as I did before things got settled at the HECFI level with Global Spectrum in terms of who they will be negotiating with. We are in the homestretch in terms of working with our landlord to dot the i’s and cross the t’s to get things finalized. We will be in a position to make an announcement in the coming weeks.”
The Bulldogs’ next home game is February 1st against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Game time is 7:30 p.m.