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


An ice facility cannot live by hockey and figure skating alone. The most successful rinks have a variety of programming to attract patrons—even those who don't know their toe pick from a triple Lutz.

Successful facilities generally should be able to program each sheet form 6 a.m. to midnight. If you only have enough business to fill one rink, don't build more than that.

But if you're looking to lure more customers, spicing up your schedule is the place to start. Here are some tips for mixing it up:

Free skates

Recapture the glory of the '70s roller rink with open skate times. Pump in some music, add disco lighting and you've got yourself a party. Free skates allow the maximum number of people on the ice, meaning you're getting the most out of your sheet. It's also a sure-fire way to make concession-stand profits. Some facilities offer laser shows, music and karaoke.

Fitness centers

While a state-of-the art fitness center will make your facility attractive to the competitive figure skaters and hockey clubs, it also will attract people who haven't been on ice skates since they outgrew their Dorothy Hamill wedge. A few might even decide to lace up again after seeing what a great aerobic exercise skating can be. Creative facilities also offer Spinning or aerobics classes for parents looking to kill time during their children's hockey practices and skating lessons.


Consider it hockey for people who don't skate. Patrons run around the ice in sneakers, pushing a dodgeball with a broom. The pastime is an excellent way to attract kids who normally would spend the afternoon shooting hoops or playing inline hockey. It's perfect for group outings because it doesn't require that everyone know how to skate.


It's inevitable. After every Winter Olympics, the American public becomes enamored with curling. They don't really understand Canada's national pastime, but they want to give it a try. Rinks should encourage participation as a way of getting nonskaters into their facilities. The sport is cheap, accessible and ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Speed skating

Get a jump on the competition before the 2006 Olympics inspire another wave of Anton Ono-wannabes. Speed skating offers patrons an ice sport less expensive than figure skating and less violent than hockey. Facilities looking to add speed skating should work with their local speed-skating association to get the program off the ground.

Cool summer

Consider turning a rink into an indoor playground during the lean summer months. Some facilities have turned their sheets into a day-camp location that offers activities such as kickball, soccer, chair hockey and inner-tube racing. The ice is not resurfaced—a condition called rough ice—so the children can run and play on it without slipping.

Extreme sports

With increasing frequency, facilities with underused sheets have melted the ice and replaced them with extreme sports. Others have dedicated unused space for X-games activities. One Pennsylvania facility, for example, converted its mezzanine into a two-story complex for inline skating, skateboards and scooters.