Griffins Feel Good About Next Season


    GRAND RAPIDS — A winning run on home ice at the end of the season and new sales efforts drove the Grand Rapids Griffins to its best attendance figure in the last four years.

    On the ice, the team won 15 of its final 20 regular-season games at Van Andel Arena.

    In the seats, the team drew 274,657 paying customers to 40 home games.

    The attendance mark, up nearly 5 percent from last season, represented the first time since the 2002-03 season the franchise recorded an increase in regular-season ticket sales.

    “I think that’s great. We tried to get a lot more of our staff involved in ticketing and marketing ideas, and it paid dividends down the stretch. And it’s a lot more fun to be at the games when the team wins,” said Tim Gortsema, Griffins senior vice president of business operations, who has been with the team since its inception 11 years ago.

    Discounts highlighted ticketing incentives. The Griffins had printable coupons at the team’s Web site that offered lower-bowl seats, normally priced at $17, for $10 to weekend games and $5 to weekday games.

    The franchise also gave fans ticket vouchers in exchange for food donations made at an earlier game, which let them purchase upper-bowl seats to a weekday game for $2. Fans who attended the March 14 game with $2 tickets could redeem those tickets for free tickets to the March 28 game. So some fans enjoyed multiple games for just $2.

    But Gortsema said the Web discount coupons boosted attendance more effectively than the $2 vouchers did. By making the coupons available online, he said the team was able to market directly to its core group: fans who regularly keep up with the team.

    Although the incentives worked, as the Griffins had eight sellouts during the year with nine of the final 16 home games filling more than 10,000 seats, Gortsema said some season-ticket holders complained about tickets being priced so low. But he said others told the team they liked having a full arena, even though some paid quite a bit less for seats than season-ticket holders did.

    Gortsema said the team is likely to address the pricing discrepancies that the discounts created by lowering the price of season tickets for the coming season.

    “We’ll try to price some of that into season tickets by giving them a better package price next year than what they’ve had in the past. So we can say to them, ‘You’re getting a better deal, and you’re getting a better deal up front,’” he said.

    The marketing incentives included promotions that brought athletes, actors and musical performers to Saturday games, and all were successful. Gortsema said work on next year’s promotions will begin soon, after reviewing the strides made this season during an off-site retreat, and they’re already looking forward to next year.

    One group Gortsema said he hopes to get more marketing involvement from is the Detroit Red Wings. That discussion has been part of the talks the two franchises have held over what will probably turn out to be a three-year extension of the affiliation contract the Red Wings and Griffins have had for the last five years.

    “The affiliation has been, I think, too hockey-focused in that it’s been about them supplying us players and us supplying an environment where their players can develop,” said Gortsema, who replaced Bob Sack in the team’s front office.

    “We’ve already had a productive meeting maybe two months ago with Detroit where we met with their key business people on how we can leverage our relationship with Detroit for better marketing value.”

    Gortsema said getting current Red Wings players on the arena’s ice again would provide value to sponsors and fans, especially season-ticket holders. But he added there are other things Detroit could do to help with the Griffins’ marketing efforts. He couldn’t be more specific, as talks between the two sides are still ongoing, but he remains hopeful.

    “We have ideas that won’t cost Detroit anything and would be of genuine value for our fans and, in some respect, maybe even be a revenue driver for Detroit. When you throw those two things together, there really is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to work out some of those items in terms of better connecting the two franchises,” he said.

    The franchise, owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos and David Van Andel, is also close to connecting with a new operator for its retail outlet, The Zone. The Griffins owned and operated the store until the team subleased the space for two years in 2005 to Jeff Gebben. But both sides agreed not to renew the contract.

    Gortsema said he has been speaking with another operator for months who could take over the space starting July 1. A deal hasn’t been signed yet, but Gortsema said he felt positive that a transaction will be completed soon. The unidentified operator has retail experience in selling team merchandise, mostly baseball items, and also sells a line of its own promotional goods.

    “He has already ordered the new jerseys. We’re getting new Reebok jerseys, and the order had to be in by March,” he said. “I’m really confident the deal is going to get done, because I’m excited about his commitment to running a quality retail operation.”    

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