With the Carolina Hurricanes now under new ownership, everyone - including new owner Tom Dundon himself - has an idea of how things can be improved on the ice, in the stands, and everywhere else around the team. Below, members of our staff offer their suggestions for what the new owner can do to shake PNC Arena out of its years-long malaise and make going to a Hurricanes game once again an appealing prospect. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments!
I wish they would lower ticket prices for a couple of years to help gather more casual fans into the arena - or, barring that, better ticket promotions like a Buy One Get One. I firmly believe if it was cheaper for fans to come there would be more of them inside PNC Arena. Once they are hooked with Dundon’s promised “improved fan experience” they will want to come back. You can slowly raise prices or lessen the number of discounts as more fans get a taste of how fun it really is.
There are still too many people in North Carolina that have no clue who the Canes are, but I have yet to meet a person who has gone to a game and not wanted to go back (at the right price!). If budget really isn’t an issue for Dundon then he should be okay with a slight decrease in ticket revenue for a long-term goal of more ticket revenue and dedicated fans.
I think further community engagement — particularly with regard to youth hockey — would help not only attract new fans, but raise a new generation of hockey players to enrich the hockey scene in North Carolina. Having the players and coaches regularly assist in clinics for both young players and youth hockey coaches would do wonders to foster the growth of not only the Hurricanes’ fanbase, but the sport itself in this non-traditional market.
And I don’t just mean in Raleigh — visit other youth organizations in Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Greenville, Fayetteville, South Carolina, etc; have the Checkers do the same in Charlotte. Having the team-sponsored organizations there is a good start, but a physical presence in the broader Carolina hockey community would be fantastic to see.
There's a lot of work that needs to be done with regards to the fan experience at PNC Arena. I love “DJ Mista Illz” as much as the next person, but I think there is some room for growth in the music/audio department, in particular. I could also live without being reminded several times a game to “Make some noooooiiiiise!”. In general, a lot of the in-game entertainment feels five years behind.
I think that the player-centered content is a win more often than not, be it lip-reading, asking players questions, Pictionary, the “Kid Masterpiece” segments from years’ past, etc. It’s important for fans to have a look at the people who play the game and not just see them as hockey-playing robots. There are some very marketable individuals on this team - they’re young, exciting, and full of personality. Like Dundon said last week, they need to exploit them, show them off to the fanbase, and establish a personal connection between the fans and the players.
The biggest thing that Dundon can bring to the team is more money. I know that sounds weird, but in the last five years the Canes have been a salary floor team, and there hasn’t been a whole lot put in off the ice either. Promotions this year are bottom of the barrel outside of the homegrown series games (which are awesome). There are a couple nights of the year that they offer discounted tickets to sections of the population, but they don’t do anything to really bring in the casual fans like good giveaways.
I live in DC and go to Caps games when I need my fill of live hockey. They have an engaged and active owner and you can see it in the presentation, around the rink, and for all their fun and original giveaways. They gave away Caps Zamboni gravy-boats before Thanksgiving this season, and everyone who saw the commercial were excited about that. Having a kind of buzz like that for promotions combined with a higher on-ice payroll will make PNC a packed house again.
You may remember my plea from the second game of the season - you know, the one where the Canes couldn’t draw 8,000 people against Columbus - that ended with the following exhortation: “Spend money to make money, for once, instead of nickel-and-diming your way to embarrassingly small crowds.” Under new ownership, it’s time for that call to be acted upon. The “Fan-uary” promotion is a good first step, and basically appropriates my suggestion to have a general-admission night, with all tickets downstairs bar the front two rows priced at a flat rate.
In talking to Tom Dundon on Friday, he made it apparent that he knew right away the fan experience was paramount, and he said plenty about forming a connection between the players on the ice and the fans in the stands watching them. Amen, brother. Talk is cheap, but if he follows through on his promises - to market the team, to improve the atmosphere, to get away from the “here we are, come see us” mindset that’s been around far too long - then everything else should fall in line.
My advice would be to make an absolute effort to draw in kids. Investing in getting young folks out to the game via steep discounts or free child’s tickets within the schools (as a reward for good grades on progress reports, etc.) does two things: It brings along an adult ticket buyer, and potentially creates a long-term loyal follower. I think most parents can attest that the best marketing to get out to a game isn’t some TV or Radio ad, but rather a kid constantly asking their parents to get back out to a game.
My suggestion is to lower the price of everything: parking, concessions, ticket prices, you name it. Anything to get folks back in the building. Coming from someone who has had numerous opportunities to talk with the fans on a one on one basis, this is the most common complaint I hear. It costs entirely too much money, in all areas of attending a game, to support the product that’s on the ice. BOGO or some sort of discount is the way to go.