By Glae Thien
Special ToThe San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO – Before becoming an original member of the Gulls, Brad Belland played pro hockey in Germany. With plenty of spare time in a foreign land, he read ahead in his college texts to prepare for a heavy load of summer classes.
Belland eventually received a business degree with honors from the University of Windsor in Ontario. When his playing days ended, he was ready for a shift into the Gulls’ front office.
Already acquainted with Gulls fans, Belland sought to reach the community further through a plan he developed to benefit nonprofit organizations. Entering its fourth year, the program has raised more than $750,000.
Belland arranged for the charitable groups to be part of the Gulls’ record-setting crowd of 13,001 for the home opener on Saturday against Stockton. In addition to hat and magnet-schedule giveaways, the Gulls held their sixth annual Teddy Bear Toss to gather stuffed toys for Children’s Hospital.
“I never thought I would enjoy the business side as much as playing,” said Belland, who performed for the Gulls from 1995 through 2000. “I’m lucky. Working with all these nonprofits, I’m meeting the most wonderful people. I’m helping them raise money and awareness about their group. It just gives a great feeling of accomplishment.”
Nonprofit groups raise funds by facilitating the sale of Gulls tickets and by involving corporate sponsors in the project, as well as holding adjunct events such as auctions of autographed jerseys and sticks. Also, they can promote their cause through game announcements and scoreboard messages.
Belland devised the program for nonprofit groups when he was promoted to club vice president.
“Brad facilitates those relationships perfectly,” said Tera Black, the Gulls’ chief operating officer. “He knows hockey and has a real understanding of what the nonprofit is trying to achieve. So he’s been a great catalyst between the sport and the community.”
As another part of his job, Belland also coordinates the Gulls’ promotions, and in doing so has introduced more theme nights such as “Mullet Night” and “Disco Night” as annual events.
These promotions emerged as a way to keep fans returning despite increased roster turnover in recent years that has made it more challenging for followers to become familiar with the players.
A former team captain, Belland enjoyed one of the longest playing tenures in Gulls history during a time when the club had more veteran players who became team fixtures. The situation changed, especially when the Gulls moved three years ago to the ECHL from the old West Coast Hockey League.
As a developmental league, the ECHL has a quota of four veterans per team, resulting in more roster changes.
The Gulls ranked third in the ECHL last season with an average home attendance of 5,678, even though they missed out on the playoffs for the first time. They had three crowds of more than 10,000, approaching the arena capacity of 12,920.
“We are trying to create new reasons for people to get emotionally attached,” Belland said. “We’re expecting huge turnouts for the theme nights because it will be our third year doing them and people are expecting them.”