Feature Article - July 2007
Find a printable version here

Skating Into the Black

Solid strategies to build revenue

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Teach them to skate

"It's all a pyramid," Martell said. "The base has to be that casual interest. You need a broad base and then the pyramid builds from there, narrowing as it goes up. The top of the pyramid is elite athletes who are really training for competition and travel-team hockey players," he added. "Sometimes rinks make the mistake of having an upside- down pyramid—you know how stable that is. If efforts are all concentrated on the elites, then it will topple over."

Although having elite athletes and their coaches use your ice can be prestigious, it is not likely to generate a lot of revenue. "They usually cost money," Martell noted. They "consume ice time" and they're likely paying most of their money to their coach, not your facility.

"They are good for some notoriety and recognition," he added. "I'm not saying you shouldn't have them. Just be careful where you schedule them and how much ice time they use."

So, the first step toward the financial black is skating lessons. Get a qualified instructor and a basic curriculum in place, then invite your community to have some fun. The York City Ice Arena in York, Penn., has worked with Rink Management to build up their learn-to-skate programs with dramatic effect, reported Jim Gross, director of public works. "We're getting new people through the door to learn to ice-skate, and our revenue has increased a thousand-fold," he said. Summer still remains the slower time for the facility, but hockey camps (more lessons!) have helped keep some action on the ice, even when it's sunny and warm outside.

If adding an extensive learn-to-skate program could put a serious cramp on your already-crowded skating schedule, consider adding a separate learning area. It doesn't even have to be ice. State-of-the-art synthetic skating surfaces offer the look and sensation of refrigerated ice, with a few important differences that can be perfect for those working on their technique: Falling is a frequent phenomenon among beginning skaters, and landing on a room-temperature, slightly pliable, dry surface can be more comfortable than repeatedly banging your booty on the cold, wet, hard ice. Synthetic ice also yields a slightly slower skating speed (about 10 percent slower), which can be helpful to those focused on learning the basics, as well as those looking for added resistance as they build muscle and strength. Visit the Buyers Guide on the Recreation Management Web site (www.recmanagement.com) for information about synthetic ice suppliers.

Once a flock of fairly proficient skaters has developed, they'll be looking for the next challenge. However, they may not be able to leap immediately into competitive figure skating or hockey. Create a way for kids to "sample" these activities, Hillgrove suggested. Offer a few low-key sessions during public skating hours, or provide a low-cost introduction to the sports in the hopes of getting some new prospects interested.

"To ensure the success of the facility, grow the interest and participation in ice sports," Martell suggested. "Once you get [students] into the pipeline of a learn-to-skate or learn-to-play program, you have an opportunity to turn them into repeat customers."

A history of U.S. ice rinks and the Ice Skating Institute

Prior to 1960, according to records kept by the Ice Skating Institute (ISI), an industry organization formed in 1959, there were less than 100 artificially refrigerated ice arenas in the United States. But then came the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Held in Squaw Valley, Calif., these were the first televised winter games, and the Americans came away with a gold medal in figure skating and a champion men's hockey team.

"Those always serve as catalysts for interest and participation in skating," noted Peter Martell, the Ice Skating Institute's executive director.

Soon private investors and park districts all over the country were seeking information on how to build ice arenas, and the ISI was ready to help. They remain ready to help today and devote themselves to promoting ice skating as a recreational endeavor, providing educational opportunities for arena managers, and supporting and operating skating competitions.

For more information, visit www.skateisi.com.