Feature Article - July 2007
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Skating Into the Black

Solid strategies to build revenue

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Form partnerships

Martell recommends every ice rink hire an external group sales representative whose responsibility is to reach out to all the YMCAs, daycares, preschools, the local school district, summer day camps and so on. When these organizations bring their participants in to skate (which in the midst of week five of summer day camp they'll likely be happy to do), that's attracting those elusive first-time customers who have the potential to blossom into ice-skating enthusiasts.

Because the York City Ice Arena is a relatively new facility (built just five years ago), "we struggle with getting kids interested," Gross explained. But they've made great strides in this struggle since partnering with the local school district to make ice skating (at least on one occasion) part of the fifth-grade school day. The ice rink transports students from their school to the facility and provides them with a couple of complementary hours on the ice, which includes an introductory lesson as well as free skating time. "It's an introduction to the facility,"

Gross said. "Many of them don't know we're here, and then they get interested in skating." This program has worked so well that it's expanding to other grade levels this year. Visit www.yorkskate.com for more information.

Partnerships can also attract more than amateurs. If you've got the ice time available, there may be high school hockey teams, adult hockey leagues or college-level hockey and speed skaters who need a place to practice and compete. The Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, Ill., (www.parkridgeparkdistrict.com/pages/page_facilities_oaktonice.html) attracts competitive skaters who want to train with national skating champion and coach David Santee, and they also share their ice with Express traveling hockey teams, the Oakton Figure Skating Club, the Chicago Jazz synchronized skating team, a speed skating team and DePaul University in Chicago. They open in the mornings at 5:30 and "may not stop until after midnight on the weekends," said rink manager Lauderdale.

Where to Put It?

If you have the luxury of planning ahead and deciding where you'd like your ice arena to be built, positioning it within a larger recreation complex—or even a shopping center—can help, literally, increase your visibility as you catch the eyes of those on their way to other activities.

The Taylor Sportsplex in Taylor, Mich., opened in 2001 with two indoor ice-skating rinks and two indoor soccer fields, and it has been a success. Taylor, a town located just south of Detroit, is a "really strong community for hockey and soccer," said Joe Nardone, the Sportsplex's director. At times, the facility has been so full they've had to send people away. Both soccer and hockey are seasonal sports, but with the combination of the two, "we get people in and out all year long, noticing the facility," he said.

"Visibility and accessibility are very important," agreed Peter Martell of the Ice Skating Institute. But he noted that there's not one right way to achieve this. Some ice rink developers opt for cheap land and an inexpensive facility, hoping to minimize costs, while others "pay a premium for real estate" and put up a well-equipped building, then hope to get a return on their investment by drawing a larger crowd, he explained.

In a recreation complex or shopping mall with lots of foot traffic, you do maximize visibility, "but there are also limitations," Martell said. "If you're in a beautiful shopping center, a lot of hockey is probably not on your agenda."