The Grand Rapids Griffins begin training camp this week, play two preseason games on the road this weekend, and open the regular season next Friday, Oct. 12, at Van Andel Arena, hosting the Milwaukee Admirals.
In contrast, the Arena District will wait to open its hockey season Wednesday, Dec. 5, when about 20 downtown restaurants and nightspots will offer discounts to customers holding tickets to the game that night.
For the third straight season, the Arena District is hosting Hockey Night Wednesday for five Wednesdays from December through March as a way to boost customer traffic during what is usually a slow revenue period. District officials said they’ve given away more than 6,000 Wednesday tickets, which the Griffins make available at half price to the promotion’s sponsors, to police officers, firefighters and employees of nonprofits and health care organizations.
In return, participating downtown businesses have recorded revenue increases ranging from 15 to 20 percent on those select Wednesday nights before and after the games. Arena District President Dennis Moosbrugger said The B.O.B, HopCat, Peppino’s, Gardella’s, McFadden’s, Tavern on the Square and Ritz Koney had the biggest gains during last year’s promotion. “The restaurants have gotten more engaged with it,” said Moosbrugger, also co-owner of Bar Diviani on Ionia Avenue SW.
Last year, sponsors bought $32,500 worth of Griffins tickets, and the Downtown Development Authority awarded the district $6,000 to cover the cost of printing the entertainment packet that includes tickets, a map of the district and the specials offered.
“They’ve had success with this the past few years,” said Kristopher Larson, DDA executive director.
The DDA again gave the district $6,000, as it has for all the promotions, but did so with a couple of caveats.
First, the board told Moosbrugger the Arena District should come up with another sponsorship plan for next year if the promotion continues for a fourth season. Second, the DDA said district officials should survey participating businesses more thoroughly after the event and provide a more detailed report on its outcome.
DDA Chairman Brian Harris told Moosbrugger the event should become self-sustainable and should not count on the DDA helping out next year, unless the Arena District can show board members that the Wednesday night hockey games provide a return on the board’s investment in the event.