Monday, September 5, 2011

Centennials Season Ticket Sales:


Shawn Mullin gave me permission to steal this from his Swift Current Broncos blog.

Shawn is the former play-by-play voice of the Trail Smoke Eaters, so he knows what BCHL hockey is all about, and being that he was in a small market with a community-owned team, I think he makes a lot of good points that apply to the Centennials and probably a lot of other junior teams around the province and across the country.

Here's from Shawn's blog, I've edited and changed some of this to be relevant to the Centennials...

I’m sure management doesn’t want to turn into the boy who cried wolf whenever ticket sales are down or they post a loss. Maybe the reality of the smallest market in the BC Hockey League is that you are always on the brink of a financial crises.

I have no such fear about sounding the alarm bell. It’s time to sound it loudly and aggressively. This is a wake up call. This is a pail of cold water being tossed on your head.

I don’t want to throw the supporters of this team under the bus because the Centennials have some of the most loyal and passionate supporters in the league. The corporate support from what the Cents tell me is consistently terrific. Why is the team relying on non-hockey fundraising? Ticket sales are not good enough for the modern BCHL.

A laundry list of excuses why someone doesn’t buy tickets isn’t going to help the immediate future. Do you have some complaints for Jerry Canuel, Luke Pierce or the board? I’m sure if you wrote them a nice e-mail or had a phone conversation with them they would be glad to hear you. Anonymously ripping people on my blog or complaining to just anyone in the city isn’t going to solve anything. All the excuses for not buying tickets in the world is for sure not going to sell tickets.

You know what would help with ticket sales? Buying some tickets.

That’s what needs to happen right now. Please write a list of suggestions and complaints down and bring them to the Centennials marketing office on Voght Street in the Chamber of Commerce office. The team is not so stubborn they won’t hear someone out if they are fair and thoughtful.

The truth is that less people are supporting this team. Ticket sales are down, not from last year, but from where they've been in the past. The Centennials Booster Club is down to a handful or so of people. From what I understand there used to be many more involved. Volunteers in general are down from where they used to be. A community this size needs more buy-in than that to keep a community owned team alive.

The Centennials are a business I understand that. They are also a business that belongs to the community. They aren’t trying to stuff some rich guy’s pockets. Everyone involved is just doing everything they can to make sure this team survives to provide the best level of hockey this area is ever going to see.

For now you need to just get out and buy tickets. Encourage your family to buy tickets, encourage your friends to buy tickets, encourage your enemy to buy tickets.

Cities with better season ticket bases don’t have teams anymore. Budgets are only going up. No one has told me “we’re going to leave if we don’t sell tickets” but they ARE going to leave if this is the level of support the city can muster.

I’m not interested in lecturing anyone. I don’t spend money on the Centennials outside of buying merchandise and I understand having a tight budget. If Merritt as a larger community decides not to support the Cents at the level it takes to sustain the team that’s your decision. If you can live with that it would be a very sad day for the people who have worked for years and decades to make sure the Nicola Valley has a BCHL team. But if you are one of the people giving up your tickets now or have never been a ticket holder, please don’t complain when the BCHL announces the move to Kamloops, Squamish or wherever else.

WHY NOT?

Let me deal with some of the typical reasons for not buying season tickets here for a moment.

“The team wasn’t good last year.”

It is true that almost any sports franchise is going to suffer a financial hit when the team struggles on the ice/field/etc. Fans love a winner. A loser? Even worse than hating a loser… they just stop paying attention. Merritt wouldn’t be the first community to react to a bad season by turning away from the team at the box office. When you are the smallest market in the BC Hockey League you don’t have the luxury of walking away in down years.

Teams are going to be bad sometimes! That’s sports. The Penticton Vees are one of the gold standards for all BCHL franchises. They were an under .500 team just six short years ago and missed the playoffs seven years ago.

The Merritt Centennials have missed the playoffs seven times in 38 seasons.

They have made the playoffs 82% of the time.

There is no team in all of junior 'A' hockey in BC that has operated continuously as long as the Merritt Centennials. They have a record of 931-1203-57-66 over 38 seasons. That includes one Mowat Cup, one Doyle Cup, one regular season first place finish and two Interior Division 2nd place finishes.

Everyone wants to see a good team. Everyone wants a champion. Only one teams wins it every year. Starting this season, four teams in the Interior Conference miss the playoffs every year. The fact that the Centennials only have seven times before is an indication of how lucky Merritt fans have been to have a team that successful over this long.

Complain about it if you want I get that. No one enjoys losing especially the players and coaches. But giving up on the team financially isn’t going to make them better. It’s just going to make them disappear. It’s not a reason to stop coming to the rink. Not in this market. They can’t afford it.

“They aren’t tough enough!”

The Centennials have seemed to always ice a tough team, but since Luke Pierce took over, it's been more of "smart" toughness. Players are being accountable for each other and defending each other. I think that most fans would rather see the Centennials bang and crash (which Luke has said he builds his teams to do - especially here at home) than just drop the gloves randomly just for the sake of fighting.

There were a couple of serious bangers in camp and the team is developing some guys who can more than hold their own. Tell Luke Pierce the Cents aren’t tough… to his face… I dare you.

“I can’t come to every game”

Season tickets are affordable enough that you can buy 30 games at the price of many fewer. You can get them for about as $44 a month. That is basically the price of going to 3 games a month and you get many more.

Say you’re the type of person who only goes to about 15-20 games a year. That is almost what you would pay to have season tickets anyway. The difference is you give the Centennials that stable locked-in support that they can count on.

What is the difference to you? You can go to more games if you want to. You can give the tickets away to friends. You also qualify for all the benefits season ticket holders get. You get to see and do what very few do... some of the best benefits I think are: VIP meet & greet with players and coaching staff, tour of the Centennials dressing room, an exclusive Centennials Season Ticket Holder pin, free admission to home exhibition games. There are many more benefits, these are just the ones I think are the coolest.

The prices here are cheaper than most AND the team doesn’t charge for parking. That said, I understand the need to pinch pennies. Why not get together with another friend, couple or family and split the tickets? There are ways to make it work. When you think about how much it would cost to take yourselves or the kids out to any event like a movie or concert or to dinner… the Cents are just as affordable as any of those things - and you don't need to drive all the way to Kamloops or Kelowna!

“The Cents aren’t involved enough in the community”

I’m not at every event in town but I know the Centennials well enough to know they are at community events quite often including weekends. I know them well enough to know that during the winter, days off for them are as rare as leaves on trees. They do get involved in the community. Luke Pierce is a born and raised Merrittonian and a former Centennial - he knows what community involvement is all about. In fact, every single person involved in the organization knows the importance of community involvement and doesn't take it lightly.

Can they do it more, can they do it better, can they promote it more? Of course they can. I only say that because ANYTHING can be done better. That doesn’t mean they are doing a bad job. That said, if there is an event the Centennials aren’t involved in that you think they should be involved in… why not tell them? Again this is your team. They can’t think of everything. If you have a suggestion for an event they can be a part of I’m sure they would love to hear from you and see if they can make it work.

It’s easy to say afterwords that they should have been there than it is to think of suggesting to them ahead of time. They don’t have the staff or time to get to everything, but I am sure they would do their best.

"I didn't like it when (insert name here) was involved with the team and didn't do what they promised or was rude to me."

The team needs your support right now and holding a grudge or sniping about how polite someone was to you is ridiculous. If you've got an axe to grind with a previous staff member of the Centennials, that's fine, but is that any reason to hold the same grudge against the current people involved with the team? The Centennials have been around for nearly 40 years and it's because of hard work of so many. Please don't let any previous staff member or regime of the team's prevent you from throwing your support behind an organization that truly gives Merritt global exposure.

The people involved right now are working their butts off and are one of the smallest staffs in the league given all the work they have to do. They deserve kudos and respect for how much time and heart they put into the team.

“There is too much focus on the Centennials”

There is sometimes a feeling of resentment towards the Cents when I talk to people involved in other sports. We talk about the Cents too much on the radio instead of such and such. The Centennials are the biggest show in town. They are a team with highly touted college and NHL prospects taking on teams with other future NHL superstars every day. You are damn right I’m going to focus a lot of coverage on the Cents.

That doesn’t mean the Centennials are trying to overshadow anyone else. They are just putting on the best product they can. Is it their fault that the radio or paper doesn’t cover your kid as much as they cover the Centennials? Resenting the team for the focus that people put on them is ridiculous. It’s their job to get as much coverage as possible. In return they are one of the only reasons Merritt is more recognizable than other cities of a similar size. I guarantee you more people know Merritt than Revelstoke or Ladysmith or Kitimat. Yes, the Coquihalla Highway, Mountainfest and the Walk of Stars have a lot to do with it, but the Centennials were around before any of those things.

If anything there should be more focus on the Cents. I see a lot of Canucks flags in windows and not enough Cents flags and Cents hats. The Canucks and BC Lions represent the whole province and that’s great, but who represents your city?

BOTTOM LINE

We can talk about all the reasons or excuses in the world you have for not buying tickets. I know we all have fancy new TVs we can watch movies and sports on. I know it’s cold some nights and the parking lot isn’t always clear the exact second we want it to be. I know the music is sometimes too loud or not loud enough. I know the team isn’t big enough, it isn’t skilled enough, they need a different goalie, there aren’t any local kids, there are too many local kids, the coach plays the vets too much and doesn’t play them enough. We all have complaints and some people’s complaints contradict some other people’s complaints.

We can spend all our energy complaining and then when the team is gone you can spend all your energy talking about whose fault it is. How about you instead expend that energy by finding out how to volunteer and giving your time to the team. How about you expend some of that energy by supporting the team and buying some season tickets or some 10 and 15 game flex packs. That way we won’t have to blame someone for the team leaving. We can all enjoy being a part of them being here for years to come.

Complain about the problems or be part of the solution… it's your choice.

Thanks Shawn, for allowing me to use this.

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