KAMLOOPS — it was a tough finish to the season for the Kamloops Blazers Hockey Club, losing their first round playoff series to their Okanagan rivals, the Kelowna Rockets, in six games. The off-season is a time for management to evaluate their season, as well as refill their prospect pool and prepare to remain competitive on the ice. It’s also a time for Blazers non-hockey staff to reflect on the season that was, while preparing for next season, all the while trying to attract more fans into Sandman Centre.
The Sandman Centre crowd was still buzzing when Reid Gardiner broke not only the Blazers' hearts but the hearts of over 4,000 Blazers faithful on Sunday night, ending one of the Blazers best seasons on the ice since back-to-back 47 win years in 2012 and 2013.
“I thought overall we had a pretty darn good season and felt that we improved from the previous year,” Blazers GM Stu McGregor said today. “That was the goal.”
Off the ice, the club saw improvements in attendance, averaging more fans this year than in the 2015-16 season
“Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not. I don’t think anyone would argue with that,” Blazers President and Chief Operating Officer Don Moores told CFJC Today, adding “Are we moving in the right direction? I totally think so.”
Over the past decade, regular season attendance has dropped by about 1000 fans per game in Kamloops. In the 2006-07 season, the team averaged nearly 4800 fans for home games. It’s a trend mirrored throughout the league, including in Kelowna. It’s a trend the team’s Marketing Director Dave Chyzowski says he understands.
“I’ve got a 60” or 70” HD TV at home… It’s cheaper to drink your own beer and make your own dinner. It’s expensive to go out,” Chyzowski says.
He also says people in Kamloops have finite resources when it comes to entertainment, and have become more discerning investing those resources.
“[Fans] want to be entertained. It’s something that they need to… not justify spending their money, but they want to be able to walk away after they’ve spent good, hard-earned dollars and say ‘That was worth it.’”
The challenge for the front office staff is creating an environment which draws fans in. It’s something both Chyzowski and Moores believe they’re building by increasing accessibility, and making sure Sandman Centre is a place where everyone is welcome
“A good example of that is our Faith and Family Day,” Moores said. “We knew that there were a lot of kids that would have trouble being able to afford to come to the game. We had sponsors that came forward.”
On the ice, the Blazers could be a vastly different team next year, likely losing four of their top five scorers, and arguably the best goaltender the franchise has ever seen. Much like building a team on the ice, increasing engagement with a community takes work. Work that the team has already started.
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