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Grand Rapids Griffins chart path into playoffs

April 19, 2013
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Grand Rapids Griffins chart path into playoffs
The Grand Rapids Griffins installed a Playoff Hockey sign on the windows at Van Andel Arena to mark the team's pending playoff run. Photo by Ryan Gajewski/Grand Rapids Griffins

The Grand Rapids Griffins will be suiting up for the American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009 — and the franchise will rely on social media and use a tried-but-true promotion to draw fans through the turnstiles at Van Andel Arena.

Although a playoff schedule hadn’t been set as of this writing, Griffins Senior Vice President of Business Operations Tim Gortsema told the Business Journal that a likely scenario has the team hosting games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-five opening round series. He said the Griffins get to choose between having the first two games on home ice, or the last three, because the club is likely to win its division and will have the higher seed of the two teams.

If that’s the way it shakes out, then the Griffins will likely play on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at home in early May and doing so will give the franchise two weekend dates in a weekend-driven league.

“We’ll likely open that series on the road, and being the higher/better seeded team, we’ll have the option of taking the front two or the back three (games). Out of necessity, we’ll probably need to take the back three just because the season ends on Sunday and that following week Thursday, Friday and Saturday there is stuff going on in the building,” said Gortsema.

“We’ll probably take the back three because that way we can at least get some halfway decent dates here,” he added. “And the dates will likely be a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; May 1, May 3 and May 4. It’s not locked in stone because we’re not sure who we will play.”

Of course there is a risk in making either choice. Choosing the first two games guarantees the team will have two home dates, but those games are most likely to fall on weeknights when attendance is usually smaller. Selecting the back three provides a better opportunity for fuller houses and a bigger gate, but only if the five-game series goes the distance. Under this scenario, the Griffins might only get one home game and it would be on Wednesday.

Besides the game dates, the team’s marketing efforts and promotions will also play key roles in how the Griffins draw during the playoff run. Gortsema said his crew began informally discussing those plans in December when the team was playing well under first-year head coach Jeff Blashill, and then really began to put their noses to the grindstone about a month ago to deliver a plan.

“The first game of the first round we’ll probably distribute rally towels. From an advertising standpoint, we’ll do a lot of radio and a lot of digital outdoor messaging because that way we can reflect the timing and be date specific. And we’ll rely on our social media to get the word out,” said Gortsema.

“For all home playoff games, we’re going to offer a $2 beer and a $2 hot dog from 6 until 8 p.m. It will be similar to our Friday night games. The beauty of that is it’s simple, people understand it and there is a proven success record in offering these concession specials to drive attendance,” he added.

For the past several seasons, the Griffins have offered beers and dogs for $1 during those hours at every regular-season Friday home game. The price has been bumped a dollar because ticket prices are also rising a dollar, and that’s an increase the league demands of every club in the playoffs because the players get paid from the gate receipts.

“We thought we’ll just kind of follow that same pattern and we’ll do it every game,” said Gortsema. “We’ll do $2 beers and $2 dogs.”

Gortsema also said sponsors are on-board for the playoff run and the franchise has picked up a few specifically for the Calder Cup chase.

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