Fife Flyers recorded their lowest crowd of the season on Sunday with just 1100 fans coming through the doors of Fife Ice Arena.
From an opening night of 2500 down to a standard 1600, attendances have been below expectations.
Sunday’s low crowd was certainly the result of two games in two nights – that’s a big ask when finances are tight – as well as an immediate reaction to an appalling performance in the 10-3 defeat at the hands of Sheffield Steelers on Saturday.
The debate over how to fill the seats rinkside isn’t new, but posting it on Twitter on Monday sparked a good response - a lot of positive ideas, and a clear willingness from fans to help.
So, how do we re-ignite hockey nights in Kirkcaldy? From online conversations and chats rinkside, here are some of your thoughts:
>> Family ticket
Shouldn’t a family sport have a family ticket as part of its package?
Coventry takes £47 for a family consisting of two adults and two children – a saving of £9 if they simply rolled up and paid at the door.
At Fife, the walk-up price is be £54, and that’s before you factor in food, drink, a programme, 50/50 tickets and travel. The total cost could easily nudge close to £100.
Other sports are just as dear, and a trip to the cinema can be eye-wateringly expensive as soon as you start ordering popcorn and hotdogs - so Flyers need to find their niche in this key market.
There are many families rinkside, but it’s clear some have to pick and choose their games.
Could a family ticket give them more value for money, and make hockey nights more accessible?
During the BNL-era, the club launched a flexi-pass. In effect a mini-season ticket, it covered 10 games - any 10 games of your choosing.
And they were popular!
They appealed to fans who either couldn’t afford the financial outlay for a season ticket, or simply couldn’t make every game in order to justify that level of spend.
You could argue they were also a stepping stone to pushing fans towards a full season ticket package.
Sometimes the best ideas are the ones which have been tried and tested ...
>> ‘The experience’:
In the 1990s Flyers promoted hockey games as “the great night out.”
In 2019, it’s all about the experience. From the moment you arrive at the door to the final buzzer, it’s about making it the best night out possible – great music, excellent service, the best show off the ice, as well as on it.
Fans absolutely want to see a winning team – the old cliche “we’ll sell you a seat but you’ll only sit on the edge of it” is still true to this day – but they also want to be entertained.
The new music seems to be going down well with fans, but the pre-show build-up remains stale, and more needs to happen across the night and during the intervals, so there is still work to be done.
But... create that buzz, establish that level of excitement, and all the other barriers to getting people rinkside every match night suddenly start to fall away as it becomes the hottest ticket in town.
>> Winning back lapsed fans:
There’s a huge raft of folk who have stopped watching ice hockey for many reasons – cost, they don’t like the style of hockey, family life and so on – but they retain an interest and an affinity.
Many come full circle as children grow up and become hooked, and then do the same again when the next generation follows suit.
They are potential soft pickings for the club. Tap into their memories, and paint a picture of the game in 2019 – get them back rinkside, and they might just become regulars.
>> Discount tickets:
Flyers fans see other teams offering cut price tickets for midweek games, and a reduced price for a home double header, and see rinks filling up.
Dropping the price hits revenue streams - the counter argument is it can bring in more people who then spend within the rink, so those losses can be mitigated.
Season ticket holders are generally against discounts as they get no benefit having already pay full whack for their seats - but surely ways of compensating them can be explored?
But the biggest issue is existing fans simply pay less at the door, and their losses wipe out any gains made bringing in new or lapsed faces.
That’s why free tickets aren’t the solution many think they are, but tiered pricing, done properly, has its place.
>> Sell, sell , sell:
We have more choices than ever how to spend our leisure time.
Flyers are competing with everything from Netflix and Strictly on TV to trips to the cinema and tenpin bowling.
So it has to ramp up every aspect of its marketing and promotion.
The great promo videos being done need to reach well beyond the existing fan base by landing on as many digital platforms as possible. Fife’s media scene covers broadcast, print, and online – the club has to get its packages on to their radar every week.
The club has a busy schedule of school and community visits – they are all crucial to forging links and sparking interest in the sport.
It has a band of fans eager to help spread the word. They along with the players are the best ambassadors for this sport.
>> Early face-offs
Flyers introduced 5:30pm starts on some Sunday games to try to tap into the family market and make their games easier to attend for parents of school-age children - but it has to start promoting it heavily to maximise any benefits.
>> Sunday specials:
Sunday night hockey has always been a tough sell in Kirkcaldy.
With half of the team’s fixtures now shifted to that day, there is a major challenge for the club to get fans through the doors.
What underpins every single idea, every new initiative is the sales job. Promotion and marketing are crucial to success – and that success can be quantified by bums on seats. That’s also Flyers’ weakest off-ice link, and it is one that has to be addressed.
We’re only one month into the season, but patterns are starting to develop in terms of attendances, and they don’t make for upbeat reading.
The beauty of ice hockey is that it has a built-in excitement factor for any new fan – match nights can be thrilling, the atmosphere partisan and noisy, and the speed of the sport compelling to see close up.
In those respects, it sells itself, but getting fans, old and new, through the door, and getting that message across the community and across the region, remains the over-riding challenge.
I suspect Flyers are actually pushing against an open door round these parts because ice hockey is part of Kirkcaldy and the Kingdom’s DNA – generations of Fifers have poured through the rink’s doors. Start evangelising about the sport now, and you not only fill the rink, but you also create the next generation of supporters.