If the Brandon Wheat Kings can reverse their slide in season-ticket sales during the off-season, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do the same with their slipping attendance numbers next winter.
The Western Hockey League club has weathered a drop of attendance every year since hosting the Memorial Cup in 2010, falling from an average of 4,761 fans per game during the 2009-10 campaign down to only 3,529 this past season. Season-ticket numbers have followed the same trend, dipping from 3,661 in 2009-10 to 2,361 last season. What has remained remarkably consistent over that time is the amount of single-game tickets sold. While the number varies widely from game to game, the team has averaged between 1,100 and 1,184 single-game tickets per night in each of those seasons.
"We hope that our season-ticket numbers increase, because the decrease we’ve had in our overall attendance pretty much links directly to the decrease in the season-ticket base," Wheat Kings owner, general manager and head coach Kelly McCrimmon said.
"We do everything possible to retain our season-ticket holders and to attract new season-ticket holders. Price is a big part of that, and the way our season tickets are priced is I think a real incentive for new season-ticket holders. It’s a reward for existing season-ticket holders and it’s how important we feel … the season-ticket base is to our operation."
The Wheat Kings’ approach has remained much the same as its early-bird deadline approaches on June 13, when the price of an adult pass goes up from $425 to $450. The club announced on Tuesday that for the second straight year one fan who buys a season ticket before the deadline will win a trip for two to Toronto and tickets to three Blue Jays baseball games.
That attendance fell after the Memorial Cup season, when the team was one of the best in the WHL and season-ticket holders were given dibs on buying Memorial Cup passes, isn’t surprising, but the trend has continued regardless of the Wheat Kings’ success. It remains to be seen what an influx of young talent will mean in the coming seasons, but regardless, McCrimmon said he stands by his team’s record of entertainment value.
"I think that the Wheat Kings have had good teams for 20 years, quite frankly," he said. "We had a disappointing season two years ago, but I think coming out of that there’s tremendous excitement, not only for last year’s team, but I think excitement in the community about where we’re headed. But this to me isn’t a one- or two-year blip where we’re going to have a couple good teams. We’ve had good teams consistently for many, many years."
The team has an extra carrot to offer this season, with season-ticket holders getting the first crack at seats for the Nov. 11 Subway Super Series game between WHL Russian teams at Westman Place.
ONE-TIMERS: The website hockeyattendance.com shows a decrease in leaguewide WHL attendance from 4,815 fans per game in 2012-13 to 4,488 in 2013-14 … The Swiss Ice Hockey Federation confirmed an earlier Swiss media report by naming Brandon native Glen Hanlon as the new head coach of the Switzerland national men’s team on Tuesday. A former Wheat Kings goaltender who went on to play 14 years in the National Hockey League and later served as the head coach of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, Hanlon guided Belarus to a spot in the quarter-finals as the hosts team of the world men’s championship last week. Hanlon, who signed a two-year contract and will also serve as the general manager of the Swiss national junior team, spent one season in his most recent post in Belarus after resigning as an assistant coach of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants last year … Former Wheat Kings C Andrew Clark has signed to play with Esbjerg in Denmark next season. The 26-year-old Brandonite split his time between Bridgeport of the American Hockey League and Stockton of the ECHL last season, totalling 21 goals and 54 points in 66 games.