Thunder, Fans Chasing Attendance Championship

Scott Linesburgh
Staff Writer
The Stockton Record

STOCKTON, Calif. – Dan Chapman is thrilled the Stockton Thunder has a chance to finish on the top of the ECHL. But this title would come at the box office, not on the ice.

The Thunder is leading the league in attendance with five home games remaining, starting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday against the San Diego Gulls at Stockton Arena.

Thunder officials have dedicated themselves to knocking off the longtime attendance-leading Florida Everblades and have started a campaign called “Beat the Blades.”

“We’re very serious about this, and I think we can win,” said Chapman, the team president. “I think it would be great for our team and city to do this in our first season.”

The Everblades, who are based in the Naples/Fort Myers area in southwestern Florida, are welcoming the friendly competition. They plan to counter Stockton’s efforts with a “Silence the Thunder” campaign, according to Nathan Gosline, Florida’s vice president of sales.

“We really want to win it again,” Gosline said. “It’s great Stockton is doing so well, but this is something we take pride in, and we’ll do our best to stay on top.”

Averaging 6,240 fans per game, the Thunder has home games on Wednesday, Sunday, Apr. 5 and Apr. 7 and Apr. 8. The Everblades are averaging 6,164 and have two home dates remaining, hosting Pensacola on Friday and Greenville on Saturday.

Dave Piecuch, the Thunder’s vice president of sales, said the team plans an extra push in advertising next week in an attempt to rally the fans.“We think it will be a lot of fun, and it certainly would be a great accomplishment for us,” Piecuch said. “We’re just trying to let everyone know what’s going on and, hopefully, it will work.”The Thunder will not be going to the playoffs and struggled most of the season, but it has flourished in attendance since drawing a sellout crowd of 10,117 for the home opener on Dec. 10. Stockton Arena has sold out four times.The Everblades play in a smaller facility – the 7,100-seat Germain Arena in Estero, Fla. – but do have a winning team (43-20-3, second place in the American Conference’s South Division), the ECHL’s largest season ticket base (nearly 4,000) and a history of solid support, having led the league in attendance the past five years.Gosline said the area is rich in hockey fans with transplanted residents from hockey states such as Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. Still, he knows Stockton presents a serious challenge in the attendance race.“They’ve worked very hard, they have a beautiful new arena and they’ve created a buzz,” Gosline said. “We expect to sell out our final two games, but this is going to be tough. Stockton’s done a great job.”Chapman said he expects the battle at the box office to go down to the Thunder’s final game against San Diego on Apr. 8.“It’s a fun contest that benefits both sides,” Chapman said. “Florida is a phenomenal organization. To come out on top would be awesome.”