University of Maine athletic director Karlton Creech wants to fill Alfond Arena for Black Bear men’s hockey games.
And he said he won’t leave any stone unturned in his quest to do so.
Maine’s average attendance of 4,092 this past season, which included 15 regular-season games and the Hockey East playoff win over Merrimack College, was the lowest since the 1991-92 Black Bears drew 4,024 per game.
Even so, the Black Bears went 13-3 at home compared to the previous year’s 2-9-6 mark, which played a major role in the firing of coach Tim Whitehead.
Whitehead was replaced by Red Gendron.
Maine attracted 4,175 per game in 2012-13.
Maine has missed the NCAA tournament six times in the last seven years after making nine straight appearances.
The Black Bears had two sellouts (5,125) this past season against Boston College and New Hampshire but eight of the other 14 games drew fewer than 4,000 fans.
The sellouts were the program’s first since Dec. 10, 2010, when they drew 5,445 for a game against UNH. Since rink renovations two years ago, including expanding the size of the seats, the capacity has been 5,125.
Maine had five crowds of 4,000 or less among 17 home games during the 2012-13 season and four in 18 Alfond games in 2011-12.
Maine’s only crowds under 4,000 between the 2004-2005 and 2010-11 seasons were the three Hockey East quarterfinal games with UMass Lowell during school vacation week March 12-14, 2010. They drew 3,000, 3,343 and 3,020, respectively.
Ticket prices will be part of the analysis.
“We’re going to look at the different price models based on our schedule and see what the best solution is,” said Creech.
“We’re fortunate in that we have one of the best home ice venues in college hockey,” said Creech. “It’s definitely an advantage for us. And we’re the only Division I program in the state. But we still have to be aware of what the environment and the market tells us and we have to be agile and adjust when we need to.”
Maine charged $23 for regular-season games, regardless of the opponent or the seat location. A season ticket cost $350 for 18 games ($19.44 per game) which included three exhibition games against Canadian colleges. It didn’t count the playoff game against Merrimack.
Single-game tickets for the three exhibitions were $15.
Maine also had a $50 ticket for fans in the donor sections who were not season-ticket holders. There were approximately 960 seats in those donor sections and 266 were available on a per-game basis for $50.
UMaine students get into games free as part of their tuition fee and have 600-700 balcony seats allocated to them. Additional open seating is also provided depending upon demand, according to Joe Roberts, the associate athletic director for external operations.
During school breaks, fewer seats are allocated for students and more are set aside for the general public, Roberts added.
Maine’s ticket prices are comparable to other Hockey East schools, but several other league schools have a wide range of ticket prices based on seat location while Maine has just the $23 single-game ticket.
Many of the schools also had a discounted ticket price for youngsters, which Maine does not. Maine does have group discounts like the other schools.
Boston University, a private school, offers single-game tickets at $15, $25 and $30 while a season ticket costs $395. Northeastern, another private school, charged $20 for a premium, single-game ticket and $15 for a reserved seat. Season tickets were $195 and $150.
The Universities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire are state schools with two sets of ticket prices: UMass charges $17 (reserved) and $14 (general admission) for games against Michigan, Boston College, Boston University and Michigan State and $15 and $12, respectively, for all the other teams. A season ticket cost $165.
New Hampshire charged $26 for chairback seats for games against Maine, Boston College, Notre Dame, Nebraska-Omaha and Michigan and $24 for every other team. Seats without backs cost $19.
There were package deals at other schools that enabled fans to obtain half of a season ticket for either the Friday night or Saturday night games.
Maine does not have such a half-season ticket package.
According to Roberts, there were 1,844 season-ticket holders last season at UMaine and they could have sold over 1,200 more if the demand was there.
“The dynamics have changed in all sports when it comes to season tickets,” explained Creech. “Sports and entertainment are moving away from season tickets into smaller, more flexible packages and individual game tickets.
“You have to be realistic and aware of buying habits and how they’ve changed across the board over the last 10 years.
“There is security in season tickets. The tickets have already been purchased and it insulates you against [subpar] performances on the ice,” said Creech. “But the goal is to have every game sold out and how we do that is less important. It doesn’t matter if it is [obtained] through season tickets or not.”
That means Creech and Roberts and other administrators will explore all avenues.
They will also look at other marketing and promotional ideas to lure fans to the arena, including live entertainment.
Creech said he was impressed with Gendron as a coach and as a promoter, noting how Gendron walked around the concourse before games talking to the fans and thanking them for their support.
Gendron said there is one primary solution to putting more fans in the seats.
“We need to win more games,” he said. “I can go around shaking hands, going up into the balcony and all of that stuff. It’s nice and it matters but, at the end of the day, if you want people to come to your games, you have to win. You can’t expect people to show up to your games unless you give them a reason to.”
Maine will have a more appealing home schedule next season that will include two nonconference games apiece against NCAA champ Union College (N.Y.), Alaska-Anchorage and 2012-13 NCAA Tournament team Canisius (N.Y.) as well as a first-time Hockey East visit from Notre Dame.