Bruins looking to bring fans back

The Bruins are looking to get young fans into the building by cutting the price of youth season tickets.

Though Prospera Centre has been far too empty on a lot of game nights this year, Chilliwack Bruins president Darryl Porter says his faith in the Chilliwack market remains unshaken. The Bruins ownership group believes as strongly in the local market as they did when the franchise started play in 2006-07.

It is the landscape around Chilliwack that has changed, contributing to a precipitous drop in ticket sales. From a high of 4,529 in 2007-08, announced average attendance at Prospera Centre has dipped to 4,073 in 2008-09 and 3,213 this year.

Those are alarming numbers in a gate-driven business.

Porter has frequently referred to the current situation as the ‘perfect storm’ of bad news.

Obviously, the downturn in the economy hurt the Bruins, and every other business dependant on discretionary spending.

Chilliwack was also stung by the arrival of the American-Hockey-League-franchise-that-shall-not-be-named 18 minutes down the freeway. The Bruins lost approximately 500-600 season-ticket holders to the newcomers.

It’s no surprise to anybody that our attendance isn’t just down, it’s down drastically,” Porter conceded, talking about an 18.94 per cent drop-off. “There were outside factors that contributed to our numbers this year, but that doesn’t explain everything. We have to look in the mirror and try to figure out what we can do better to get fans back. We have to focus on controlling the things we can control.”

Chilliwack was hurt by poor concession service last year, and an on-ice product that went 11-22-2-1 at home. Those two factors cost the team another significant chunk of their season ticket base, but Porter believes both problems have now been addressed. Tiara Food and Beverage has stepped in to operate the concessions this season, and by most accounts, done a good job.

And while the on-ice product is not yet where it should be in the not-too-distant future, the Bruins have become more competitive at home, going 15-15-0-3 with very few stinkers at Prospera Centre.

In a press-release issued earlier this week, the team announced an offer that will allow anyone who puts down a $50 deposit on 2010-11 season tickets to attend all remaining Bruins home games this season, including playoff games, for free. The idea is to lure people back into the building to see how things have improved.

“People left for various reasons, and we’re targetting the fans we had at one time, hoping they’ll come and see for themselves how much better things are,” Porter explained.

The second of two major initiatives announced by the Bruins this week is a reduction in season ticket prices for next season within sections K, L and M. Adult and senior season tickets will be discounted from $459 to $299 while youth seasons tickets will be discounted from $309 to $199.

“We have a lot of kids that come to our games, and that tells me that there are probably more out there that would come to games,” Porter explained. “Chilliwack is a family-oriented community, and we’re trying to price our tickets in a way that will allow more families to come to games.”

There is a non-business related reason for these latest ticket moves,. With the Bruins clinching a playoff spot in Prince Albert Wednesday night, Chilliwack fans will get the chance to enjoy some post-season hockey.

A big part of playoff hockey is the atmosphere in the buildings, which typically gets ramped up with so much at stake.

Porter and company want the Bruins to have the biggest home-ice advantage possible as they try to upset a yet-to-be-determined Western conference heavyweight in round one.

“We have a chance in the first round, but we know we need that home-ice advantage and part of this offer is intended to help us with that,” Porter said.

Looking toward long-term viability, Porter said this is a critical summer for the organization.

“The magic number in our league is a season ticket base of 3,000 and a nightly draw of 4,000. We started off well in our first two years, but that season ticket base is now around 2,000. Our focus this summer is going to be getting that base back up to where it needs to be.”