By Katelyn Gendron
At a press conference at the MassMutual Center on May 29, Bruce Landon, owner, president and general manager of the Springfield Falcons, annouced that the franchise had reached its goal to sell 500 new season ticket pacakges by June 1. If the goal had not been reached the franchise would have been sold with no guarantee that it would stay in Springfield. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
SPRINGFIELD The desperate screeches of dying Falcons could be heard far beyond the walls of the MassMutual Center this past season. Hearing the call for help, the Greater Springfield community banded together, embraced their Falcons and revived them from what could have been an untimely death.
Last Thursday, Bruce Landon, owner, president and general manager of the Springfield Falcons, announced that the franchise had reached its first goal to sell 500 new season ticket packages by June 1 in its two-tiered plan to save the organization. The second goal is to increase the full season ticket packages from the 511 obtained so far to 700 by the beginning of the 2008-09 season.
"In January [when the season ticket campaign began], 700 [new season ticket packages] seemed like an awfully big number in this market," Landon said. "[This campaign has] touched the heart and nerve of many people in this area . we're very appreciative for the support we've received. We're well on the way to turning this thing around.
"The community has responded [to our needs] and we say thank you, thank you, thank you."
The campaign to save the Falcons began in January, when Landon announced that he and the other members of the Flacons' ownership group, Springfield Pro Hockey LLC, could no longer absorb the financial shortfalls of the franchise. The solution was to try to sell 500 new season ticket packages approximately $220,000 worth by June 1 or the team would be sold and possibly relocated.
The need to increase the season ticket base came from its "erosion" due to a poor on-ice product, prior to the 2008-09 season, Landon explained. This year, the Falcons' average attendance dropped to 3,300 fans per game the second lowest attendance in the American Hockey League (AHL).
On average AHL teams have a seaon ticket base of approximately 2,000. Landon explained that even during the Falcons' most profitable and successful years on the ice 10 years ago, the franchise had only 1,800 season ticket holders.
However, Landon said that with the community's renewed hunger for Falcons hockey and their new National Hockey League (NHL) affiliate, the Edmonton Oilers, "the future [of the franchise] looks a whole heck of a lot brighter right now." The Falcons entered into a three-year agreement with the Oilers at the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
Landon noted that the Oilers' only criticism of the Falcons was that their players were taking the ice in front of so few fans.
"The players like to play in front of people," Landon said, noting the game's heightened intensity when played before a larger crowd. He explained that the success of the season ticket campaign guarantees a fan base, even on sub-prime nights games not played on Friday or Saturday nights.
He noted that the renewed support from the community has also rejuvenated the central office staff.
"There's a lot of pride in getting to 500 [season ticket packages]," Damon Markiewicz, manager of Falcons' media relations and Internet services, said. "This is my fourth season back [with the organization] and it's by far the most rewarding."
Landon said the goals for the central office prior to the 2008-09 season are to sell the remaining 189 full season ticket packages and to retain the season ticket holders well into the future. He noted that the Falcons' season ticket renewal rate is 96 percent the league average is 86 percent even in spite of "these tough economic times."
Landon warned, however, that the franchise will not have another season ticket drive in the future. He said the business model and figures will continue to be examined on a quarterly basis in the hopes that the franchise can retain their season ticket holders, therefore ensuring the long-term viability of the franchise in Springfield.
"We've got a committed ownership group," Landon said. "You don't make a lot of money in minor league hockey . we have a tremendous product here and we should be so proud that Springfield has a team in the second best [hockey] league in the world."