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



FINANCIAL HAT TRICK

Many rink managers understand the needs of ice sports. The financial pressures, however, often slip them up. The soaring cost of utilities, for example, has left some rinks paying more than $10,000 per month to keep the ice frozen and the lobby toasty.

The most resourceful rink managers have found new revenues sources, ways to cut expenses and increase patronage. Here are some of their tips for pulling in more bucks.

The ceiling begins

Designers recommend low-emissive ceilings as a means of thermal control. The special ceilings cut cost roughly $15,000 more than standard ones, but they can reduce utility bills by 20 percent.

Let's make a deal

If your local government provides utility service, speak with municipal officials about a discount before building the facility. (It doesn't hurt to ask afterward, though it's always better to tackle expenses problems before they occur.) They may be willing to cut utility rates in exchange for the sales-tax revenue and recreation opportunities it will create.

Baby, it's cold inside

Computerized refrigeration systems are rapidly replacing the tried-and-true thermostat. The systems, which cost upward of $20,000, immediately warn of any problem with the rink's temperature, greatly reducing the risk of losing ice. One sheet of ice, if melted and lost, can cost more than $10,000 in materials and lost revenue to replace.

Celebrity magnetism

Several rinks have turned to elite figure skaters and professional hockey teams to help boost their profiles. Olympic-level skaters, for example, often receive free ice time at facilities in exchange for promotional work. Their celebrity attracts both onlookers and would-be skaters to the rink. In the end, it means more people spending money at the concession stand, paying for skating lessons and buying items at the pro shop.

The name game

Corporate naming rights are everywhere theses days, and ice facilities are no exception. Companies will spend big money to attach their name to a well-run, well-used rink. The City of Westminster, Colo., and the Hyland Hills Parks and Recreation Department sold the rights to their rink—one of the nation's largest ice facilities—to Sun Microsystems for $1.5 million.

Granting wishes

Facilities that host tournaments and competitions that generate hotel stays may be eligible for tourism grants. Try documenting the overnight stays and sales-tax revenue your facility pumps into the community. (A mid-size hockey tournament, for example, can mean thousands of dollars in hotel visits, meals and shopping.) Share the information with your local government officials—don't forget state legislators—and lobby them to earmark tourism dollars for the promotion and/or improvement of your facility.

Nice, but no ice

As cooling costs have skyrocketed, some recreation rinks have turned to synthetic ice to cut costs. Synthetic ice offers a low-cost, low-maintenance option for many facilities across the United States. While predominantly used in hockey camps, stage productions and at-home skating facilities, a small patch of non-frozen ice at a facility gives athletes an opportunity to run drills without paying for pricey ice time. The simulated stuff is about 20 percent cheaper to operate than real ice.