By Tom Hanson
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – To sell tickets for the upcoming Kelly Cup Finals, the Florida Everblades relied on the world’s oldest sports marketing plan: winning.
By beating the Reading Royals for the Eastern Conference title, the Everblades became the hottest ticket in town.
Minutes after Florida goaltender Rob Zepp was mobbed by his teammates following Monday night’s 3-2 victory in Game 5, the line to buy tickets for Games 1 and 2 against the Idaho Steelheads started forming outside TECO Arena.
“When you make it to the finals, you don’t need a marketing plan,” said Everblades director of marketing Mark Miller, who interrupted the celebration to remind people that tickets were on sale immediately. “You just need to put tickets on sale.”
With five windows working, the TECO box office stayed open until 1 a.m. Thursday — accommodating everyone who was willing to stay in line.
According to Sammy Wallace, TECO ticket manager, approximately 3,500 tickets were sold right after the game.
It didn’t take long for most of the other tickets to sell when the box office reopened at 10 a.m.
A line started forming around 8 a.m., and Everblades team president/general manager Craig Brush greeted the morning risers with 15 boxes of donuts. The line continued 100 people deep for most of the day.
When the box office closed Tuesday evening, standing room-only tickets were available. Fewer than 200 single-seat tickets were available for Saturday’s game, as well as standing room-only tickets.
Bonita Springs resident Joe Beauregard attended Monday night’s game but decided to come back Tuesday for his Kelly Cup Finals tickets. He waited just over an hour to secure seats.
“I thought the line might actually be longer,” Beauregard said. “This was worth the wait.”
Because of a recent surgery, John Refi of Fort Myers couldn’t make the Eastern Conference clincher. But the 40-year-old detention officer wasn’t going to miss a chance to see one of the final games, even if that meant standing in line on crutches.
“I listened to the game on the radio and once they won I told my wife I was going to the next game,” Refi said, “no matter how much it hurts me.”
The Everblades’ trip to the finals has caused a nice headache for Miller and Brush.
Miller spent the day trying to secure a TV broadcast for all seven games. Every game of the finals will be televised on UPN-8.
The Everblades will not be offering overflow seating in the recreational rink. For Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the team set up three big screen TVs and offered tickets for $5 to watch the live feed, which was not shown locally.
The fact that they had a limited response for that deal didn’t discourage Everblades officials.
“We tried something and it didn’t work, but that’s OK,” Miller said. “We just didn’t want to turn away anyone who wanted to see the game.”
Brush spent the day trying secure plane reservations to Boise, Idaho, for the team.
The team will travel to Boise for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best- of-seven series, starting May 19.
“Right now we are caught up in the moment,” said Brush in between 12 phone calls in an eight- minute span. “But now that we’re in the finals, our main focus is winning it all.”
Boise has the home-ice advantage but graciously allowed Florida to host Games 1 and 2. A conflict with TECO being booked for high school graduations forced the change.
Brush said he preferred going on the road for the first two games and returning back for the middle stretch. He said he appreciated Boise management being so accommodating.
The Everblades will return to TECO for Game 6 on May 25, if necessary.
Tickets for Game 6 will go on sale when it becomes evident there will be such a game.