Fife Flyers need hard sell to get fans back on match night

Fans at Fife Flyers EIHL play-off finals weekend (Pic: Steve Gunn)
Fans at Fife Flyers EIHL play-off finals weekend (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Last week in one High Street shop, the woman behind the counter asked: “Still going to the hockey? I’ve no’ been since Mo left.”

It’s scary how easily this sport can fall from your radar.

Fife Flyers fans at the 2016 play-off finals weekend  (Pic: Steve Gunn)

Fife Flyers fans at the 2016 play-off finals weekend (Pic: Steve Gunn)

I look at my own schedule for December. It has next to no room for ice hockey.

Two pantos, a Christmas movie trip, and a journey to Dundee to see the Got Soul choir’s festive show where my mum was on stage belting out the music of Aretha Franklin.

I’m pretty sure that is mirrored in many households across the town right now as the ‘to do’ list grows longer, and Flyers get put on the backburner.

So, the club has to figure out two things: 1. How to get people through the doors and 2. How to get them to come back.

Fife Flyers fans, Findus Cup 2001 (Pic: Bill Dickman, Fife Free Press)

Fife Flyers fans, Findus Cup 2001 (Pic: Bill Dickman, Fife Free Press)

It was interesting to read the comments of Todd Dutiaume, Fife Flyers’ head coach, last month on the drop in Fife Flyers’ attendances at a time when the team was enjoying its most successful ever start to an EIHL season.

Top four and sitting comfortably in the leading pack, he noted again on Saturday the crowd, and atmosphere had both dipped, adding: “I don’t get a sense of excitement about the positives we have had.”

That ought to be sparking a debate off-ice on what the club can do to re-connect the fans and the team.

But if results cannot brings fans in, what can?

Let’s start with getting people through the doors.

Ice hockey is a brilliant sport, packed with excitement and incident, and Fife Ice Arena has the potential to be one of the most atmospheric, and noisiest, anywhere on the circuit.

So, sell it.

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Todd Kelman, GM at Cardiff Devils nailed it in summer when he spoke of going out and working harder every single day to sell, talk and promote hockey night in the city.

Flyers have a strong brand, a great history, and a landmark anniversary to develop, and re-engage with fans across several numerous towns. It needs to sell, sell sell – and harder than ever.

Fans want to celebrate and share the success of the team they are so proud of, and they desparately want to get to know the players, so make it happen.

They want to see behind the scenes, so let them in.

In towns, it means establishing visibility; everything from players doing PR visits, handing out tickets, and attending major events, to the club networking from boardroom level down.

Selling this sport, and team, also means making a big noise in terms of PR, and understanding how to use every aspect of the media – from print to digital to broadcast – to get its message across.

That means the best promo videos, regular updates on and off the ice, and a social media presence that maximises engagement and interaction.

There are probably several hundred folk who just need a little nudge to be there on match night.

All of the above, done properly and with a clear strategy, should offer them different reasons to come.

But, however low that fruit may hang, it won’t come if you do next to nothing.

Hockey is competing against Strictly, Netflix, box sets, video games and changing societal trends when it comes to winning, and keeping its audience.

It also has to know that audience.

Deprivation in parts of Kirkcaldy is now among the worst in Scotland. Usage of foodbanks has rocketed as Universal Credit has impacted, and even working families are looking for help.

I suspect cost is a major barrier – so what can be done to make match nights more inclusive? There’s a major discussion this club – indeed every pro sports team in Fife – ought to be have having right now. One that starts by asking “what can we do?”

All of the above needs resource, but it also requires leadership from the top, and a clear path of travel.

The rewards are tangible. Every new person through the door is extra revenue; one that needs to be nurtured and developed along the road from first time visitor to casual fan to rinkside regular.

It’s a well established journey - and I have no absolutely no doubt about this sport’s ability to hook people in.

Existing fans are Flyers’ are the best ambassadors and will make new faces welcome – every week on social media they cry out for a big poush to “pack the barn.”– so tap into their willingness and commitment to spread the word.

And making sure new spectators come back means more hard work, so every single aspect of the match night experience has to be as good as it possibly can be.

The woman who last saw a game when Mo ran the bench had no specific reason for stopping. It just happened.

But here’s the thing. Mo left in 2005. The best part of 15 years have passed since she last saw a Flyers’ game.

That’s how easy it is suddenly forget what made hockey nights so special in the first place.

To get her - and many others - rinkside the club needs to paint the most compelling picture, using the most vivid colours and the brightest palette.

Because in 2019, Fife Flyers, fourth top and with genuine ambitions to go further than ever, deserve the biggest, noisiest support imaginable.

The hard work on the ice has to be matched by what happens off it. Do that, and that missing sense of excitement identified by the coach will surely return.