It appears that the build-it-and-they-will-come concept just won't cut it at city hall. When it comes to filling empty seats for Frontenacs hockey games at the shiny new downtown arena, the K-Rock Centre, city councillors instead ascribe to good old-fashioned, well-thought-out advertising and promotion.
"I'm surprised at the amateurish nature of the promotion being attempted here. If you want to sell tickets, you promote your events," said Mayor Harvey Rosen last week in a full-frontal shot at the Frontenacs' ownership.
Rosen's comments were aimed directly at a press release the hockey club put out last week announcing that there would be plenty of good seats available at the door for the final six games of the season.
Team management was simply hoping that media outlets would put the word out for them. (Were they hoping that K-Rock's electronic media competitors would as well?)
Rosen's comments are indicative of the pressure bearing down on anyone even remotely associated with the arena. Frontenacs owner Doug Springer, like Dorothy commenting to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, must be saying to his general manager, Larry Mavety: "Mav, we're not in the M Centre anymore."
Nope. We're not.
Because the big difference between the Frontenacs' new home and their old one is that the Memorial Centre was paid for.
The K-Rock Centre is a whole different deal, mortgaged to the hilt on taxpayers' backs so that only filling the seats game in and game out will enable councillors to avoid implementing future tax hikes.
In order for the city to help pay for the $46.5-million facility, the Frontenacs must average 3,500 paid spectators per game every season - just under two-thirds capacity.
In a hopeful outpouring, they managed to fill the K-Rock Centre on opening night last Friday, all 5,700 seats and then some. But by Sunday's matinee game, ticket sales had shrunk to 3,100, with fewer than 2,300 showing up. As of last Thursday, ticket sales for the final six home games were averaging about 2,200 per match.
While the mayor is choosing to focus on marketing issues, other council members believe that only by icing a competitive team, one with some playoff aspirations, will the Frontenacs build a stronger, more enduring fan base.
As we delve into the hockey side of operations, many fans contend that the team won't start winning until it shakes up its coaching and management staff. Owner Doug Springer has taken nips and tucks around the edges over the years, but he always falls back on Mavety, a favourite scapegoat for disgruntled members of the Fronts nation.
The danger in all this is that someone starts pointing fingers at the players for the city's economic woes if it ends up owning a white elephant.
The vast majority of this city's hockey fans are too intelligent to go there. You don't start blaming a bunch of teenaged hockey players for a series of decisions made by politicians, advisory panels, city staff, consultants and numerous other expert adults over the past five years.
Councillor Vicki Schmolka says Springer is being ribbed often about having "a nice new arena" but not a good team. Let's hope he gets the message.
Let's also keep everyone focused on developing the basics: smooth, efficient public transportation moving people to and from the rink; the lowest possible ticket and parking prices; a creative and professional marketing plan that will raise the team's profile and boost sales; making sound hockey decisions, on and off the ice.
Oh yeah, and giving 110 per cent.