Looking at Stockton hockey, its history, and its future

So some of you have asked about the City of Stockton and attendance. Let me provide some facts and understanding about the city the Flames AHL team calls home.

A disclaimer here: I actually live in Modesto, 25 minutes south of Stockton.

The City of Stockton

Contrary to reports, not everyone in Stockton is a criminal or carries a gun. We do not need an armed escort to get from the parking lot to our seats. No one has to duck and cover leaving the building. There are no bullet holes on the exterior of the building. The Stockton Police have a strong presence in and around the stadium. We have never felt unsafe when attending games.

The arena is located downtown by the Stockton Ports (Single A) baseball stadium and by the riverfront. The City of Stockton has been re-vitalizing the area for the past few years. This area was once home to many dwelling-challenged people and is getting better. I am sure there are areas in Calgary that you wouldn’t walk through at night; in Stockton, same thing. You know where it’s safe and where you don’t want to be.

Stockton hockey history

Stockton Arena opened in December 2005. Starting in 2006, Edmonton fielded the ECHL Stockton Thunder. They were the sole operator through the 2010 season, when the San Jose Sharks and Oilers shared the team for the next few years. In 2012, Edmonton took back full control of the team until it was switched to a New York Islanders affiliate for the 2013-15 seasons.

Per Wikipedia: “On January 30, 2015, the Calgary Flames purchased the Thunder’s ECHL franchise rights and relocated the team to Glens Falls, New York to become the Adirondack Thunder. The Adirondack Flames, also owned by the Calgary Flames, relocated from Glens Falls to Stockton to become the Stockton Heat prior to the 2015–16 season.”

Attendance history

For the 10 years that the Thunder were here, the team averaged just under 6,000 people. Before the team became an Islanders affiliate, the team averaged over 6,200 fans. Since the start of the 2013 season, attendance has averaged 4,650 (not including any numbers this year).

Per Hockeydb.com, attendance for the Thunder is as follows:

Here are the totals for the Heat:

What can be done?

Brian Petrovek, Heat GM, was brought in last March. This is his first full season with the Heat. So far, he has brought in a “Fan Zone” before Saturday games (food, music, drinks, face painting for the kids, etc.), invited local restaurants to the new “Breakaway Café” where local chefs rotate through to provide additional food options for fans, and has set up some player interactions to help build the “fan experience”. Based on the numbers today (less than 3,000 average), more needs to be done to promote this team.

Let me slip on my GM hat and provide a few ideas.

  • Better communication: I am convinced that the decline in the attendance for the first three games is due to people not knowing or remembering the new start times. They moved Friday’s start time from 7:30 to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s times from 7:30 to 6:00 p.m. You cannot rely solely on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media to get this message out. Papers and radio can run ads. Use the digital billboards up and down the freeways. Have a segment on local Sacramento television. Something to promote this team.
  • Marketing: The Heat cancelled Fan Fest this year, the most important time for fans to meet the players and gain interest for the upcoming season. At a time when you want to promote the team, especially at the beginning of the year, you are absent. Like minor league baseball, have some activities during intermissions for kids. Mrs. Finest and I did not even know there was a Booster Club until two-thirds of the way through the season last year. This year we have not seen them at all. Lastly, expand your marketing to include Sacramento (population 500,000) and Modesto (210,000), and all places in between. The Heat have not done promotions in others cities besides Stockton. They have approximately 1,100 season ticket holders who live anywhere from Sacramento to Modesto. You need to blanket those areas as well to get the word out that you have an awesome product with value that you need to see in person to appreciate.
  • Cross-promotion with Calgary: I know this is hard to believe, but I have had more than a few people ask me, “Where is Calgary?” Really??? Have you looked at a map of Canada?  You have to get the fans to care about the Heat and Flames. A preseason game would go a long way. Maybe the last game before first cuts, so players are already here. Schedule a Meet the Flames night when the club is in San Jose and has a few days between games.
  • Think outside the box: How much would it cost to have some lucky season ticket holders attend post-game interviews? Or spend a period in the press box with scratched players (wouldn’t that be great insight from a player’s prospective)? Or attend morning skates? There are three “Chalk Talks with Coach Huska” (the first one is this Saturday) where season ticket holders can ask questions. Maybe include some players in on this.

It must be frustrating for the team to come out to empty seats. It is frustrating to me as a season ticket holder to see so few people in the stands.

Go Heat Go!

  • SoCalFlamesFan

    These are good suggestions. I lived a few hours south but was amazed by how many hockey fans there are, who might watch hockey on TV but rarely go to games because they don’t know where hockey is played.

    I also just want to thank you again for your Stockton coverage.

  • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

    Hey admins, I just got redirected off this site to a spammy survey that tripped my malware blocker twice on two different articles. Not cool. Not cool at all.

    • Atomic Clown

      Hmmmm, I’m a lot more familiar with Calgary, and there are a couple communities where I’d be wary about doing anything to stand out, but no where where I’d be harassed for simply walking down the sidewalk

  • deantheraven

    Great insight from a big local hockey fan! Maybe another angle might be to spread the word about your work on Flames Nation. It’s great for us to have a fan like you giving us regular reports of life on The Farm. Here’s to hoping your work gets more notice. Thanks again, and again. Best to Mrs. Finest. You two are true assets.

  • Squishin

    Seconded! Nice article. I particularly like the idea of some Stockton pre-season action. However, I think the Flames and the NHL would be hesitant to make the vets travel so far for a pre-season game (which is why we’ve stuck to Edm, Van, Wpg lately). I think it’s a good idea, though, and would be interested to see how it plays out.

    • oilcanboyd

      It would be easy to fill the Flames roster with pros like they do for other away games…we would be willing to send down Brouwer, F Hamilton, Stajan, Glass, Lazar, Bartkowski….. 🙂

        • Stockton's Finest

          What would be good would be a Flames – Oilers game, since Bakersfield is fairly close. I would even drive down to see that game.
          I know the Sharks played in Vegas this year about an hour flight away. And many East Coast teams played in their minor league rinks. It can be done. You are playing with only a few regulars to start with, and you have a good idea of who you are sending down already. So send those players and a few extras. In reality it gives the Heat an extra pre-season game without it counting as an AHL pre-season game.
          Just sayin’…..

    • IUsedToHaveAName

      Boston and Montreal are about 1.5 hours by air away from Halifax and they play, as far as I can remember, at least one preseason game there most years, at least they did when I lived there.

      Stockton is about 2 hours by air away from Calgary/Edmonton. While I do like the split squad games up here, a “home and home” in Stockton and Bakersfield isn’t out of the realm of possibility as a replacement every once in s while.

    • Cheeky

      I think some of the more popular players would need to be included. Gaudreau I’m sure would peak the interest in the area, would start with Capt. Gio persuading the rest…and considering they are getting paid well to play the sport…

  • HAL MacInnis

    Just stuff random crap off the top of my head…

    They should be giving away season tickets through radio contests every week. Season tickets should be given to every charity silent auction available. If the Flames aren’t into bringing the whole team down, maybe just a couple of players acting as coaches in an open scrimmage before the season starts. Team Giordano vs. Team Hamilton and the coaches pick their own team players from the Heat. Each Heat player should make a guest appearance at a skating lesson or minor hockey practice. Get the kids excited and the parents will follow. Real grass roots stuff. I miss the Timbits hockey during intermissions at Northlands in Edmonton (I just barfed a bit in my mouth at the thought of the Oilers there). They should do that stuff at Heat games, if they don’t already. Do something for the community you play in. That’s where it all starts. Treat the community right, and the community will treat the team right.

    Oh yeah, and the Oilers suck. 5-3 loss to the Hurricanes. Life is good.

  • Chelmsford Leafs

    I am UK so may have this wrong, but I think the AHL needs some East-v-West weekends. With the, by US standards, proximity of the California Teams to each other I don’t see why Eastern AHL teams aren’t flying out and playing 2 or 3 western teams over a (long) weekend. Travel costs can be minimised by sharing – e.g. Marlies & Senators travelling together. Yes there is travel, but AHL and ECHL have a history of games in Alaska, Abbotsford, St Johns. The western teams again could fly east and play a couple of eastern teams in the same way. Even if the whole league can’t do this, the schedule is so unbalanced I’m not sure that it would make a great difference over the season.
    The NHL might not like it, but a handful of well marketed East-v-West weekends would surely boost attendances.