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Photo Credit: STOCKTON HEAT

Stockton’s Finest – the Next Stockton Heat CEO?

A few weeks prior to the stoppage of plague, I mean play, the Flames organization gave Stockton Heat CEO Brian Petrovek the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. While there are more important matters for the Flames in these times, there is an opening for someone to run the Heat on the business side of the house. Whomever Calgary chooses to fill this position, that person has a short time to turn around a number of issues from attendance to lease extension.

Since the CEO position is about the business side of the team, having played hockey is not a requirement, but having hockey knowledge is a plus. The CEO is responsible for turning a profit while providing the best possible experience for customers. That person needs to have a proven track record in running a business, while balancing the challenge of fan retention, drawing new fans to the arena, and a positive cash flow.

That said, this is my unofficial resume to take over that spot within the Heat organization.

My qualifications

I am the Sales and Operations Manager for a division in my company that has shown increased revenue for the past five years. Over the past 3 years, I have led my company in profit margin percentage, averaging close to 20%. My clientele continues to increase as current customers recommend my services to their friends and colleagues. Over the past 14 years I have been in either a sales or management position, and in both for the past six years.

My hockey knowledge has been on display over the past few years in my articles here at FlamesNation. Whether you like or hate my articles, I do know the nuances of the game and provide some insight that others might not catch. Being able to talk hockey will go a long way to building that bond with the fans.

The Heat would benefit from a CEO who is from the area. I have lived in the Valley for over 20 years and know the area and businesses that call the Central Valley home.

Lastly, I am a huge Heat fan, something that has not been on display over the past three years from the previous CEO. That fanatical attitude and enthusiasm trickles down to the staff and fans and shows everyone that we are all cheering on the Heat. Instead of camping out all game in a suite away from the crowd, the CEO should be available during the games, as it may be the only time someone has to say something to them. I would be walking the arena during the game, visiting fans in their seats to see how their experience is going, available during intermissions to make sure they are getting value, and at the front entrance before and after the game greeting fans as they arrive and depart. I would also hold scheduled season ticket holder forums before select games to provide exclusive access to the most valued fans. Ultimately, the CEO is responsible for the fan experience.

SF’s Opening Month as CEO

On my first day as CEO, I would hold a meeting with the entire staff and have a roundtable discussion on how we can improve both season ticket holders and walk up ticket sales. What perks can we provide to make them want to return for another game, upgrade to a variety of season ticket plans, and retain current season ticket holders? While no idea is out of the question, we would need to weigh the budgetary requirements it would take versus the estimated return on that investment.

I would have my sales team go out in the communities within 50 miles of Stockton to secure partnerships with local businesses. Armed with a handful of sponsorship ideas, have them choose which theme, advertisement, or activity they would like to purchase. With an average of under 3,000 people in attendance, providing a number of comp tickets as part of any package is not out of the question. Getting people to the arena is the biggest challenge. Once they are there, it is the job of the Stockton Heat staff to make sure they have a positive experience that would bring them back for another game.

I would hold season ticket holder roundtables to gather input from fans on what they would want to see. They are the ones we are in business for, so having them involved only enhances their experience as some of their ideas get implemented into the season. It also helps in marketing, as season ticket holders are the best messengers to others about the team and their experiences at the game.

Ideas to Help Attendance with Litttle to No Money Required

Below are some of the many ideas I have that would take little to no money to implement that would enhance the fan experience and may result in return visits for additional games.

  1. Allow fans to sit on the bench and/or penalty box for pre-game warmups. The bench can fit up to 12 and each penalty box can accommodate 4. This is a great way to get kids and parents closer to the game. This can be accomplished by signing up day of game at a booth by the entry.
    1. Allow Season Ticket Holders to sign up early through their rep.
    2. With a maximum seating capacity of 20 per game, block a portion of seats for Season Ticket Holder “pre-reserved” seats and open up the remaining seats to general admission.
  2. Create a forum where fans at the game can post Instagram or Twitter pictures to #StocktonHeat and their pictures are shown on the scoreboard. This also serves as indirect advertising as you now have thousands of pictures on social media hyping the Heat.
  3. Do “Hockey Education” clips on the different calls and penalties to show on the board. Use the players to demonstrate the call (parody) and then a YouTube clip showing a similar event to relate. Have fun with it.
  4. Season Ticket Holders can “Sit with a Scratched Player” for a period. This allows fans to be able to view the game through the eyes of a player and would bring education of the game to the casual fan to increase the knowledge to the game. For the die-hard fan, it would be a chance to ask more specific game-related questions.
  5. If there is an open suite for a game, have a raffle to fill the suite with Season Ticket holders. This is an opportunity to take care of your most loyal fans while providing an upsell opportunity to those who have never watched a game from the suite. This can be combined with idea above, where a scratched player can come in for a period and talk with the fans.
  6. Improving the music in the arena would help with fan energy during the game. I can only hear “Everybody clap your hands” so many times. Three ideas here:
    1. Allow season ticket holders to submit songs to be played during stoppages of play (or during intermissions if approved). This provides variety in the music played instead of just all Rock and/or HipHop.
    2. Invite local radio stations to “take over” the music throughout the night. Along with that, give tickets to that station to distribute throughout the week to promote the game to their listeners.
    3. Bring back the high school bands and let them play throughout the night. Over the past few years, the Heat have invited local bands to play during intermission (which is awesome!), but they are not allowed to play that often during the periods and stoppages of play. If you bring them in, let they play the entire night.
  7. Have a Girl Scout Cookie Night. Invite multiple local troops to sell cookies which helps the community, brings some desserts to an arena that is sorely lacking in that department, and puts more people in the stands. Also, it promotes the Heat.
  8. In-Shape Gyms is a sponsor of the Heat. There are approximately 25 gyms in the geographical area that should be targeted for marketing. You could do a “Workout with the Heat” where a player(s) leads a workout group in either cycle, weight-lifting, cardio, etc. Give a ticket to everyone who attends. A booth could also be set up for autographs for an hour after the workout.
  9. Add additional Chalk Talks with the coach for season ticket holders. It would be nice to increase it from the current three times a year to once a month during the regular season.
  10. Better and more advance notices of specialty nights and promotions. Hang flyers in the arena, send out emails with upcoming events weeks in advance, coordinate with local media, and promote on social media.
    1. Get the players involved with the messages on social media. Tell them to have fun with it to show their personality.
  11. Have cheerleaders at the games, like other AHL teams do. Use local high school cheerleaders and slap a Stockton Heat shirt on them for the game. On Band Nights, bring in the cheerleaders from that school. This would get more people involved and keep them active throughout the game. Recently, there have been fans from the opposing team that have had small groups cheering louder than Heat fans. Cheerleaders would help to start Heat chants to get the fans involved.

Here are some additional ideas that may take an investment to implement:

  • “Slap Shot” specialty night where players talk about their favorite scene, edited clips are played on the screen, black, lens-less frames are handed out, and the Heat wear special Slap Shot themed jerseys that would be auctioned off after the game.
  • Bring back Chuck-a-Puck. This can provide a revenue stream to the team.
  • Hold a Team Skills Competition Night. $5 per person and kids under 10 get in free. Remove some ice-level glass to allow fans to get closer to the action. Have a raffle to win a seat on the bench and penalty box. Make it on a Saturday or Sunday to allow maximum attendance. Open up some concession stands for food and drink purchases.
  • Bring back Fan Fest at the beginning of the season. Have the players at tables conducting autograph sessions. Open up some concession stands for food and drink purchases.
  • Have a promotion with a local restaurant or store that provides a giveaway when the team scores (fill in the blank) or more goals in a game or a player picked at random reaches certain point totals for that game.
  • Coordinate Watch Parties with local restaurants when the team is on the road. Provide giveaways or team up with that restaurant to provide a discount on food and drinks for a pre-determined time after a Heat goal.
  • Additional radio and TV advertisements along with freeway billboards. There is little mention of the Heat in the local papers and on local TV. Last year there were two billboards, one promoting a local winery and the other Bud Light, that featured the Heat. This year those have been replaced.

In conclusion, the job as Heat CEO has its challenges. The person who is hired for this spot needs to not only know hockey but also must know the region and its businesses. While not a traditional hockey market, there is an interest in the game in the Stockton area, based on past Thunder attendance numbers. I am up for that challenge. I can be reached at [email protected] to set up a time and place to meet.