Buck Nights Cash In

May 7, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Griffins drew more paying customers this season than the last one for the second consecutive year, and it seems that the team’s offer of dollar draft beers and hot dogs helped to fatten the franchise’s attendance mark.

The Griffins brought 275,905 fans through the Van Andel Arena turnstiles during the recently completed hockey season for a hike of a half-percent over last year, which was the first time attendance grew in four years. The team averaged 6,898 fans per game, and that figure pushed the Griffins to fifth best for average attendance in the 29-team American Hockey League — the highest the franchise has finished in its seven seasons in the league.

But if the AHL counted the hot dogs and beers consumed at games instead of the tickets sold, the Griffins may have led the league — especially on Friday nights.

For the final six Friday night home dates, the Griffins offered draft beers and dogs for $1 each from 6-8 p.m., and the loss leader paid off tastily at the concession stands and ticket windows. Although sales varied from game to game, fans swallowed an average of 4,500 doggers and gulped around 6,500 brewskis per game. Prior to the dollar promotion, those numbers were in the hundreds, not thousands.

Attendance averaged 8,900 for those games, which included a Brandon Inge signing event and Darren McCarty’s debut for the Griffins, and gave the franchise a few more big Friday turnouts than the team had the previous year. The Friday before the promotion started, the attendance was about 5,700.

Senior Vice President of Business Operations Tim Gortsema told the Business Journal the Griffins consider the buck promotion a success in more ways than one.

“I would say so, absolutely. I think it accomplished a lot of things. I think it brought new fans to the building. I think it addressed an ongoing concern on the feedback we receive that concessions are too pricey. I think it added energy and atmosphere to the building,” he said.

“It really didn’t have any ill effects as far as security issues, no impact as far as that goes. It brought more people in. … I think it helped grow the concession dollars in a gross sense from what it would have been without the promotion.”

So will a promotion that produced so many positive outcomes continue next season?

“Well, we’ve already had some dialogue with both the building, SMG, as well as food and beverages. I think all parties are interested in looking at continuing it, provided that it makes fiscal sense for everybody. And I think everyone is committed to making something happen. So we’ll engage in more dialogue over the summer,” said Gortsema.

Gortsema said the franchise needs to review the schedule for next season, which the league will release this summer, before making a definite commitment to dollar nights. The team has to learn how many Friday home dates it will have next season and if the dollar campaign can be offered at every one. But, he added, for now at least, everyone involved is looking at the promotion in a positive light.

“It’s a partnership, so everybody has got to give something. We’re underwriting some of the costs of the dogs and the beer. The building is giving up what would normally be a higher sale by agreeing to lower-priced items for food and beverage,” said Gortsema.

“It’s getting everybody onboard and thinking about baking a bigger pie and not getting concerned about how big each piece is. If we bake a bigger pie, everybody will win.”

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