Sports Business

Griffins enjoy fruits of their championship labor

Calder Cup title gives franchise and city of Grand Rapids economic benefits.

June 30, 2017
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Grand Rapids Griffins
On the ice, the Grand Rapids Griffins are champions. Off the ice, the franchise’s long playoff run further enhanced its importance to the community. Courtesy Sam Iannamico

As the afterglow of a second Calder Cup championship still lingers over the Grand Rapids Griffins, the residual benefits may last for years to come.

While the organization already is enjoying the immediate fruits of its labor — additional revenue resultant of 10 extra home games at Van Andel Arena — the economic impact of winning a league championship has a ripple effect when it comes to marketing the team in the future.

“Of course there’s an immediate benefit, but there’s also the long-term benefit not only for next year but beyond where you’ve branded your franchise as a consistent winner,” Griffins President Tim Gortsema said. “That bodes well for things like season ticket renewals and sponsorship renewals. Whenever you have a championship caliber team, people take notice in the league and in the community, and it certainly gives us an improved branding platform to market this team.”

In terms of incremental revenue of the playoff run, Gortsema said the additional games added about another 25 percent to the organization’s bottom line for the season. As far as postseason ticket sales, the Griffins set a franchise record for total playoff attendance with 83,017 fans coming out for those 10 games, including a pair of sellouts and two of the franchise’s three largest conference finals crowds ever.

Gortsema said it isn’t always guaranteed that a sustained playoff run will result in higher revenues, citing the extra costs associated with a shortened travel schedule, which results in higher costs when scheduling flights and hotel accommodations. On top of that, he noted with a championship comes additional — though certainly welcome — expenses, like the celebration rally, internal party, championship rings and other expenses.

“It’s not always the case in this league that you’re going to see a revenue increase with the playoffs,” Gortsema said. “It can be a more challenging product and time of the year to even break even or make money, and that the playoffs for us had a positive contribution to the bottom line is based on tremendous fan influence.”

Grand Rapids itself also had much to gain from the Griffins’ extended playoff run, with the surrounding businesses in the arena district benefitting from an influx of fans downtown for 10 extra nights. While a quantifiable economic impact wasn’t currently available, a 2014 Grand Valley Seidman College of Business study estimated the economic impact of the Griffins’ 2013 Calder Cup title at just more than $2.1 million.

“We’re certainly proud to be a catalyst for some of that, and it’s great to jumpstart the local economy through playing some hockey games,” Gortsema said. “But for me personally, it’s about the unification effort that our sports team can do for a community in terms of getting them to bond together.”

The Griffins’ second championship also does much to promote Grand Rapids as a destination for high-level professional sports entertainment, West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler said in an email.

“The win cements Grand Rapids and West Michigan as a solid sports city and has highlighted our area from the additional coverage, as the Griffins played their various postseason playoff opponents from San Jose to Syracuse,” Guswiler said.

The victory also has increased the awareness surrounding members of the team. According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Red Wings, the Griffins’ NHL affiliate, have given the Arizona Coyotes permission to interview Griffins coach Todd Nelson for the Coyotes’ head coach vacancy.

“Seeing our guys get mentioned (for NHL jobs) certainly helps reinforce the brand and quality of play within our team and the league,” Gortsema said. “About 140 players have come through Grand Rapids and are playing in the NHL, so whenever you see that success, that reinforces the quality and level of play we have here. Whether that’s our coaching, our players or team staff getting that call-up, we’re proud as punch for them when it happens.”

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