Despite having one of their most successful seasons on the ice in years, the Prince Rupert Rampage are struggling to put fans in the seats this season, a fact that could threaten the team’s future.
“The biggest thing for us is getting the fan base back,” said team manager and Central Interior Hockey League president Ron German. “We’re winning more games than ever…and there are only 350 people there? There are a lot more hockey fans in this town than that.”
The Rampage’s attendance has been in steady decline since the 2009-2010 season according to Pointstreak.com, the website that manages statistics, win-loss records and attendance for teams in the CIHL. The Rampage averaged 837 tickets sold per game during that first season season, before watching ticket sales decline steadily over the next 5 years to a low of 502 tickets per game in 2014-2015.
While the numbers rebounded slightly from 2015-2017, this year’s totals are on track to be the lowest team’s lowest ever even though they are currently in a three-way tie for first place in the CIHL with the Quesnel Kangaroos and the Terrace River Kings.
German said there were only 350 people in attendance for the team’s most recent game, a come from behind win again the Kitimat Ice Demons on Dec. 9, and this difference in attendance is a significant hit to the team’s bottom line when a ticket costs $10 for adults.
“When you go from an average of 840 to our average now is less than 400…it’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s around $3,000 a game over eight games, that’s $24,000 right out of pocket.”
Tanya Ostrom, registrar and co-chair for Rampage game days, said management has tried to lower the Rampage’s expenses to keep the team financially viable, but there are certain costs that will inevitably remain high. These include the cost of travel, bringing in senior referees and linesmen to officiate games and the cost of ice time at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre ice arena. Ostrom said the team applied to have the team’s rates reduced through the city’s community enhancement grant – the Rampage made a request for an in-kind grant of $4,100 for 2018 – but the request was denied.
“What we asked for was not that the ice was free, but that we get the same rate as minor hockey,” she said.
Ostrom said that cash and in-kind sponsorships from businesses in the city have stayed strong through the team’s nine years of operation, but live attendance numbers are the number one source of revenue that can offset the team’s operational costs.
“What we’re lacking is the numbers through the door,” she said. “We try to make it affordable and entertaining and something good on a Saturday night for the family to do.”
The CIHL lost a team before the start of the 2017-2018 season when the Smithers Steelheads couldn’t find enough players to field a team. Their departure reduced the number of teams in the league to five. German said some of those Smithers players have joined the Rampage, which helped them put a team on the ice when their own players aren’t available.
“If Smithers hadn’t folded, we probably would be in the wings of folding because we’ve got four of their players,” he said. “That’s what’s keeping us alive in terms of players.”
Player availability might be secure for the time being, but German said the team’s immediate future is in jeopardy if they can’t fill more seats soon.
“What we’re asking for is that the community come out and support us by watching our games,” German said. “Not sneaking in or watching the televised games on CityWest. We need people in our stands, it’s the only thing that’s going to save the team.”