Right Wing Conspiracy – 5 DEC 2013
Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
Seeing Stars: How to Boost Attendance in Big D
Since a trip to the Western Conference Finals in the spring of 2008, the Dallas Stars have endured five playoff-less seasons, three coaching changes, two GM changes and one bankruptcy. That’s quite a bit for a franchise to absorb, much less a fan base. Understandably, attendance declined during that period, dwindling to a low of 14,226 fans per game in the 2011-12 season, 28th in the NHL. Hockey-starved fans came back in force for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, boosting average attendance to 17,063, good for 21st. Eleven home games into the current season, the Stars are drawing just 15,428, 23rd in the league. As a partial season ticket holder who has attended 12-15 games each season for the past seven years, I have a few ideas about putting butts in seats in Dallas.
First, though, I must give credit to the Stars’ new(-ish) owner, Tom Gaglardi. Two moves he’s made thus far stand out: First, hiring Jim Nill as GM, a decision which is looking better by the day, and second, the new jerseys, which are an astronomical improvement over the infuriatingly boring black “DALLAS” jerseys, which couldn’t have been worse if they had simply said “HOCKEY” across the chest. Seriously, those things were to hockey jerseys as a reduced-fat, sugar-free peanut butter sandwich on stale white bread is to food. But I digress. Apparel featuring the new Stars logo and color (Victory Green, natch) is flying off the fan shop shelves, as I discovered last week at the Stars’ Team Store at franchise headquarters in Frisco, TX, where 90% of the t-shirts and sweatshirts in stock were kid sizes only, the adult versions being sold out/on backorder. On shop.nhl.com, authentic Dallas jerseys are not available, and the one home (green) replica jersey in stock is Jamie Benn’s no. 14, and that only in S, M and XL (no L or XXL). So people, myself included, really like the new gear. Why, then, aren’t they going to the games?
The most obvious answer is the Stars’ post-2008 playoff drought. Playoffs aside, they’ve been mind-numbingly mediocre at home since their last playoff series. Counting an overtime or shootout loss as a LOSS (because loser point aside, it sure doesn’t feel like a win for players or fans), Dallas has compiled a home record of 102-97 from 2008-09 to the present, including a 4-7 start to this season (by contrast, the Chicago Blackhawks have run up a home record of 131-71 during the same span). From a fan’s perspective, that means buying a ticket in anticipation of a Stars victory is roughly a 50-50 proposition. In a town full of casual/bandwagon fans, .500 teams – other than the Cowboys – will always struggle to fill seats.
With a new coach, new system and many new faces, an uneven start to this campaign was to be expected. The team is improving, and for the first time in years, is exciting to watch. What hasn’t changed much, however, is the in-arena experience, which remains mired in the doldrums of the recent past. Below are this fan’s recommendations for making the AAC experience as fresh as the Stars’ new jerseys:
- Change the Music – I’ve attended games in thirteen NHL arenas, and only two played virtually identical music: the AAC and Madison Square Garden. Dallas isn’t New York. Instead of trying to be a smaller, sweatier, less-taxed Big Apple, let’s be Big D, shall we? The Stars are the only NHL franchise in Texas. Embrace it. If you don’t have the stones to make Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Screw You, We’re From Texas the Stars’ new goal song, at least play it between the national anthem and the opening faceoff. If you play any country tunes (and you should), don’t play any of that stinkin’ Nashville pop – play music by Texas artists, like Kevin Fowler, Max Stalling, Billy Joe Shaver and Jack Ingram. Beyond country, give us some Selena, some Albert Collins, some more Stevie Ray Vaughan, and – why not? – some Meat Loaf. Texas music is rich and diverse. Play songs that remind both the fans and players where they are…P.S. And for us old time hockey traditionalists, would it kill you to maybe mix in some vintage organ music once in awhile?
- Fill in the Gaps – Too many empty seats in the lower bowl looks bad and is demoralizing for both players and fans. Once the game is underway, why not allow season ticket holders in the upper deck the option of upgrading to unsold lower level seats for, say, $10 each? Not only would it create the illusion of a sellout for the TV audience, but it would also provide added incentive for people to purchase at least a partial season ticket package AND create an in-game revenue stream for unsold tickets.
- Pump Up the Volume – I’m not talking about music; I’m talking about giving the fans a reason to GET LOUD. How about measuring the dB level of each section throughout the game and awarding ticket vouchers to the loudest one? Combined with a series of 30-second “infomercials” on the Art of Yelling at a Hockey Game, maybe a contest to come up with the most inventive/funniest taunt for the opposing team, etc., this could be a big winner for all fans. Have fun with it.
- Fill My Belly – While food choices and quality at the AAC have improved over the past couple of years, there’s still room for improvement. For starters, a team in Texas should have much better barbecue. With BBQ palaces like Hard Eight, Angelo’s and North Main in the area, we can do better than the canned ‘que currently served in the arena. And don’t even get me started on the pizza. Ugh.
- Build an Arch-rival – Which Stars’ home game sells more tickets – one against the Ottawa Senators, or one versus The Hated Red Wings (patent pending)? Frankly, it’s no contest. With THRW gone to the Eastern Conference (and good riddance, says I), the Stars need a new in-conference, and preferably in-division, rival. While Chicago seems well on the way to fitting the bill, there’s room for at least one more. Mark my words: the NHL WILL expand to 32 teams and it’ll happen sooner, rather than later. If I’m Tom Gaglardi, I’m thinking about how much ticket sales might increase if the Stars had a division rival a short drive down I-45 in Houston…and I’m doing whatever I can to encourage a prospective ownership group in that city, including facilitating meetings between said group and the NHL.
Given the time of year, I guess the above suggestions could be considered my Christmas Wish List. All I need now is for Mr. Gaglardi to play Santa…
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926