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WHL Notebook: Walk-up crowds key for Brandon

The players aren’t the only ones in the Brandon Wheat Kings organization with butterflies in their stomachs leading up to game time this season.

The business staff is sweating out game days as well, with the Western Hockey League club more dependent on walk-up business than it has been in years.

Leading up to Wednesday’s meeting with the Seattle Thunderbirds at Westman Place, attendance for the Wheat Kings’ first eight home dates was an average of 4,036 — down 90 fans per game from the same point last season. But the total number of fans walking through the doors doesn’t tell the whole story.

Season-ticket sales are down nearly 400 this season to 2,587, which means walk-up crowds have risen considerably, and attendance for the more popular Friday and Saturday games is actually up slightly to this point. Additionally, a new Tuesday promotion that featured two-for-one tickets and discounted concessions at the Keystone Centre led to a more robust than usual crowd of 3,623 last night for the team’s ninth home game.

“With the number of home games that we’ve played, it’s hard to draw any real firm conclusions, but we’ve been pretty happy with our attendance, really,” Wheat Kings owner/ GM Kelly McCrimmon said. “Our season-ticket base is down, which is always a concern, but our walk-up has been pretty steady. This Friday we had a tough weather day with the first real snowfall of the year. We still had 3,800 (for the Friday game) and 4,400 the next night.

“We’re excited about what we’re going to be doing with our Tuesdays, with the two-for-one tickets and then all the different discounts with the food and beverage that the Keystone are making available to customers. So at this point I think that we’re reasonably satisfied.”

So far this season, season-ticket holders have made up about 64 per cent of the Wheat Kings’ attendance, versus 72 per cent last year, and 77 per cent in the Memorial Cup season of 2009-10 when the club averaged 4,662 fans per game.

It’s a much riskier game this way, but it has worked so far and could continue to do so, provided the weather — and perhaps the National Hockey League lockout —hold.

“The walk-up crowd can be an impulse buyer,” McCrimmon said. “Weather affects that, other activities affect that.

“Your season-ticket base is the foundation of your club because those people have tickets for every game. That’s why that number is so critical for every franchise.”

AROUND THE WHL: It looks like 16-year-old Payton Lee has worked his way into Vancouver’s long-term goaltending situation after being recalled recently to join ex-Wheat King Liam Liston and former Brandon prospect Tyler Fuhr. Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province reports that when asked if Lee was up for good, Vancouver head coach Don Hay replied: “That’s the way I feel.” Hay has some time to make a decision, with Liston out with an ankle injury … Until losing 3-0 to Kelowna last Thursday, Kamloops was the last team in the Canadian Hockey League that hadn’t lost in regulation this season, picking up points in its first 17 games. The WHL record for points in consecutive games from the start of a season remains with the Brandon Wheat Kings, who were undefeated in their first 29 contests of the 1978-79 season … Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News reported that after missing only one game in his WHL career —that coming in his rookie season in 2009-10 — Blazers RW Dylan Willick could be out until after the Christmas break due to a broken ankle suffered on Friday.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 7, 2012

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