By Ken Robison
The Fresno Bee
It looks as if the Stockton Thunder is going to lead the ECHL in attendance for the fourth straight year.
In a season that saw a decades-old Fresno Falcons franchise fold up and blow away, the 4-year-old team two hours to the north is averaging 6,155 per game, more than 2,000 better than the league average of 4,153.
By contrast, the Falcons were averaging 3,284 when they cut their losses just before Christmas.
Thunder president Dan Chapman gives the credit to his sales and marketing staff, including director of marketing Marlena Aranda, a Selma High grad (Class of 2002).
Aranda, who worked as a Fresno Grizzlies usher in the first year of Fresno’s downtown stadium, has been with the Thunder from its inception.
“Me, Dan and a couple other people started in January of 2005,” said Aranda, a University of the Pacific graduate. “We started with a computer and fax machine on the floor.
“We were the Stockton Hockey Franchise group. We had no players, no arena, no colors, mascot or team name.
“We’d make phone calls and say, ‘This is Marlena from the Stockton Hockey Franchise. I know we don’t have a team or an arena, but we want you to be involved because this is good for Stockton.’
“We were selling thin air when we started.”
Unlike Falcons management, which trimmed sales and marketing staff when the economy went south, the Thunder actually added staff.
“In these economic times,” Chapman said. “You have to fight harder for the dollar.”
Obviously, Aranda said, that strategy has paid off.
“We’re looking forward to our fourth straight attendance title,” she said. “It looks like it’s probably going to happen.”
With seven games remaining (before Saturday), the Thunder (30-30-5) still was fighting for a playoff berth.
But in the battle for the hearts of Stockton fans, they’ve already won.