Falcons optimistic despite 'sluggish' ticket sales

Bruce Landon
By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The Springfield Falcons hope that a new parent club will help drive up interest in the team, but to this point ticket sales aren't reflecting such an increase in excitement about the team.

Falcons President and General Manager Bruce Landon told Reminder Publications that season ticket sales have been disappointing thus far.

"We're trying to sell hockey when it's 90 degrees and humid out. It's not easy," Landon said. "Our corporate sponsorship sales are going well as they usually do. Season ticket sales are sluggish, which is a little bit alarming in the sense that it's so important to us. We're making some progress, but it's not where it should be."

Landon is not entirely pessimistic about ticket sales, pointing out that while full-season ticket packages are moving slowly, there has been an increase in smaller multi-game package sales.

Currently, the Falcons offer ticket packages ranging from $1,000 called the Grand Plan to 10-game flex plans that sell for $145 for adults and $95 for children. Landon also noted that the Falcons have some of the lowest ticket prices in the American Hockey League (AHL) and new ticket deals and packages are in the works.

"We know that people's budget and time restraints are affecting full-season ticket sales. Unless you're really a die-hard hockey fan, you're not going to find the time or the budget for individuals to buy season tickets. Around our league there were only three teams last year that showed an increase in full-season ticket [sales]. Most teams similar to us . are pushing the smaller plans a three-game plan, a six-game plan, a 10-game plan."

Springfield has plenty of room for improvement in terms of gate. According to the AHL, the Falcons were the third-worst team in the league in average attendance, drawing 3,644 fans per game during the 2009-10 season. The league average attendance was 5,100.

With the franchise's struggles both on the ice and financially the question has been raised about whether or not Springfield is still a "hockey town." Landon believes there is still a large population of hockey fans that just need some good hockey to be interested in.

The Falcons have not had a winning record since the 1997-98 season and forced fans to suffer through a franchise record 17-game winless streak last season. They have not made the playoffs since 2003 and have never won a Calder Cup.

"I believe Springfield is a hockey town. I believe we haven't given them a good enough product the last several years to prove whether or not there's enough out there to support it by today's standards," Landon said. "By that I mean you can't survive on 3,000 or 3,500, [or] 3,600 people. We have to get the crowds back up over [4,000]. If we can put a good product on the ice and we can't draw that number, then you start to question, 'Is the hockey interest there enough to sustain what you need from a financial standpoint?' I like to believe it is."

Springfield is not the only New England hockey market falling on hard times. The Worcester Sharks averaged just 28 more people a night than the Falcons and the Lowell Devils were forced to move back to Albany, N.Y., after drawing less than 2,500 fans per game.

"For whatever reason, we've noticed a drop off in New England and it's certainly noticed by the league as well that there are certain pockets that are struggling a little bit and we seem to be one of those pockets right now," Landon said.

The Falcons have been rumored on a number of past occasions to have been on the brink of being sold and moved. Landon said an increase in ticket sales is needed, as well as new local ownership partners. Those interested in joining the Falcons locally has been difficult and Landon said the Falcons' future in the city is still up in the air.

"That's something I can't guarantee right now. Everything's year-by-year right now," Landon said. "Optimistically, I'd like to hope that we could find a group of some local people who would like to talk to me about it and so far I haven't had much success in putting it together."

This year, the Falcons are banking on new, good talent from a new affiliation, as well as unique ticket and entertainment options to draw new enthusiasm and more gate, according to Landon.

"You try to be creative in what you can offer the public in giving them options. We do a really good job with the entertainment aspect of the game. When we get people here, we get them hooked," Landon said. "But it's also important we have a quality, competitive team on the ice so that you're not just drawing the families and the people that come out for the entertainment, but you can also put the hook into the people that are the hockey purists that just want to see a good hockey team and that's something important to us going forward."

After Springfield's affiliation with the National Hockey League's Edmonton Oilers came to an end and the Oilers moved their top minor league operation to Oklahoma City, Okla., the Falcons signed a one-year affiliation contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets with a one-year option for the following year. So far, Landon likes what he sees.

"No matter what I say, people are going to say, 'I've heard that before,' but I have to be honest. I've been really, really pleased with Columbus in a couple ways. I like their approach. I like their analytical, their methodical approach to the hockey side of the business," Landon said. "I've been very much involved in the process on free agent signings and on coach evaluations, which they don't have to get me involved in.

"They respect the fact that I have been in the business 41 years, I guess it is now, and that I do know players in the AHL. So they've been very good at asking my input and getting my feedback and allowing me to be candid in my evaluations," he added.

With the new affiliation come a host of changes. The Falcons unveiled new colors and uniforms from the old blue, black and yellow to red, white and blue and all of the coaches and players in the Oilers' system will be replaced with Columbus' prospects.

"It's going to be a new look and hopefully we can create a new buzz and we have a good enough team that the fans will attach themselves to some of these new players," Landon said. "Going forward this year, we're going to have a totally complete roster change. There will not be one returning player back, but I think that's a good thing. I think we were due for a change. We feel we're going to have the right mix. If we can stay healthy and everything falls into place, we'll be fine."

Landon declined to comment on who specifically will be in a Falcons uniform, but said he is very pleased with the level of talent the organization is stockpiling.

"What I take as an approach is that every player is right now a Columbus Blue Jacket. There are no Springfield Falcons. The reason I say that is these players all deserve the right to go into Columbus' camp and have a chance to make the team," Landon explained. "The last thing I want is a player who's sitting at home in western Canada or his agent on the Internet and seeing that Landon said so-and-so is ticketed for Springfield. That's not fair to the players."

The Falcons open the 2010-11 season with a home-and-home series with the Providence Bruins as part of the AHL's 75th anniversary celebration. They begin the year at Providence on Oct. 8, then host the Bruins at the MassMutual Center on Oct. 9.

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