By Leif Skodnick
Special To ECHL.com
Dropping the puck at 10:30 a.m. doesn’t seem normal for a professional hockey game.
Five ECHL teams, however, have played morning games, inviting local school children to attend as part of “Education Day” promotions.
The morning games in Bakersfield, Florida, Greenville (pictured), Toledo and Trenton combined to draw 25,145 fans to ECHL arenas. The attendance included more than 15,000 children who after being rewarded with a day out of the classroom provided the teams with enthusiastic, loud and at times screeching fans. Greenville, Toledo and Trenton each exceeded their average attendance while Bakersfield and Florida were on par with a regularly-scheduled game.
“Education Days have been extremely successful throughout the league this season,” said Glen Thornborough, ECHL Vice President of Marketing/Sales. “These promotions enable teams to educate young fans while introducing many to the game of hockey. They also provide a unique opportunity for all fans to witness first-hand ECHL teams’ commitment to family-affordable entertainment in their community.”
In their third season of hosting an Education Day promotion, the Greenville Grrrowl drew 5,656 fans, including an estimated 4,050 school children, on February 15 for their game against Louisiana. It was the largest crowd of the year before the Grrrowl drew 6,603 on February 25.
“Since we play hockey in the south, we’re always trying to expand our sport,” says Grrrowl broadcaster Chris Stango. “Education Day is a great way to show thousands of ‘first-time fans’ what this sport is all about. We hope to educate school children, teachers, bus drivers, parents, and anyone else at the game about the sport of hockey.”
When the Alaska Aces came to town on February 23, the Toledo Storm partnered with the Toledo Zoo to create the arctic-themed “Toledo Zoo Kids Day with the Toledo Storm”. 3,661 fans packed the Toledo Sports Arena for the game, including an estimated 2,000 kids. Children in attendance were given an educational packet on hockey and the arctic as well as the opportunity to play chuck-a-puck and have lunch at a discounted price.
“The goal of ‘Toledo Zoo Kids Day with the Toledo Storm’ was to promote our game to groups who normally wouldn’t come on a Wednesday night,” said Stephen Sanford, Director of Group Sales for the Storm. “Our attendance was made up primarily of school field trips, mostly elementary and middle schools.”
The approximately 4,050 Children who attended Greenville’s Education Day received more than just a ticket and a day out of the classroom. The Grrrowl prepared two different education packets, one aimed at elementary school students and the other geared towards middle school and high school students. The programs included information on physical fitness, geography, scientific principals of ice making and the mathematical elements of hockey statistics.
During intermissions, international players were interviewed on the video board, and asked to speak in their native languages. The players interviewed included Alexander Gusev from Novosibirsk, Russia and Carl Mallette from Victoriaville, Quebec, who was the leading scorer in the ECHL at the time.
The front offices in Greenville and Toledo consider Education Day to be a tremendous success.
“Our second-best attendance this season came on Education Day,” said Stango.
“We did a higher-gross gate than an average Wednesday night home game,” said Sanford.
Ticket sales, however, aren’t the only way of measuring the success of an Education Day promotion.
“The kids get a lot of enjoyment out of attending, and a lot of them haven’t been to a game before,” said Suzanne McManimon, a teacher at Klockner Elementary School in Hamilton, New Jersey who attended the Trenton Titans Education Day game with her fourth grade class on February 23. “We have to watch them a bit more closely, but it’s fun. It’s a reward for them finishing the NJ ASK (New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) which is their standardized exam.
Two of McManimon’s fourth graders were attending a hockey game for the first time, and perhaps their sentiments are a better way to judge the promotions’ success.
“It’s interesting to watch, but some parts of it look pretty dangerous,” said Crystal Garcia. “It’s fun and we’re out of class for the day.”
“I’ve never been to a game before. They are all really good ice skaters,” said Kimberley Quezada. “I definitely would come to another game.”