Feature Article - July/August 2004
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Slick Setups

Programming, planning and promotional tricks that help heat up ice arena profits

By Stacy St. Clair


SKATING STARS

Industry experts encourage facilities to seek celebrity customers because of the implied endorsement that accompanies such partnerships. They can result not only in new patrons, but more dollars spent at the pro shop and concession stands by fans who just come to the facility to watch the superstars.

The Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., for example, was swamped with calls after patron Sarah Hughes won the 2002 Olympic gold in Salt Lake City. The callers—most of whom were beginner skaters—knew what the facility did for Hughes' career. The teen's biographical clip during the Winter Games talked about how she drove three hours each day just to train on the arena's perfect ice and benefit from its flexible ice time.

With figure skating offered at more than 1,200 rinks nationwide—up 29 percent since the last Olympiad—arenas are finding it increasingly difficult to set themselves apart. One of the easiest, and increasingly popular, ways is to attract star power. Nabbing an A-list coach, skater or hockey team can draw athletes quicker than discounted ice fees or flexible skate hours.

Ice House, for example, has lured enough elite skaters since it opened six years ago to now be considered one of the top facilities in the world. The center produced nine Olympians in 2002, three of whom won gold medals. Rinkmates Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, the Russian pair who captured the controversial pairs gold, joined Hughes in the Olympic pantheon that year.

In interviews about the facility, the champions praised the ice quality and credited the center's four NHL-size rinks with eliminating competition with the general public for ice time or space. Such advertising, experts say, could mean tens of thousands of dollars to a facility.

Hoffman Estates' deal with the Wolves takes the celebrity endorsement one step further. The partnership will not only provide patrons, it will help the community build its dream facility.

The center will include two NHL-size hockey rinks, accommodating 700 spectators in the main rink and 300 in the smaller one. It also will have the obligatory pro shop and concession area.

"Having that additional money [from the Wolves] made this project possible," says Kate Ditchman, project architect. "It's not open yet, but the ice is just in tremendous demand."