Minor-league hockey team gives big-league experience
Herm Sorcher would be the first to admit that the recent National Hockey League lockout helped the Danbury Whalers.
“Definitely we gained some fans from it,” said the minor-league team’s CEO and managing partner. “More than ever this year it was ‘I heard about you guys. There’s no NHL and I need to see hockey.’”
And though the NHL hiatus has ended, Sorcher said the Whalers will remain in their clearly defined space, one that continues to grow.
The Federal Hockey League team is now in its third season playing out of the Danbury Arena, and Sorcher said the Whalers’ organization prides itself on providing a game experience that is memorable, affordable, and yes, lots of fun.
“If you come to one game, you’re hooked,” he said.
The team plays a 60-game season, with home games at Danbury Arena offering fans admission at $10 for children and $15.75 for adults.
And while hockey may be the main attraction, attending a Whalers game is much more, he added.
“We really try to make it a party,” Sorcher said.
You enter the arena and hear a blast of music. There are pre-game parties and post-game parties, with the activities making a nonstop evening.
“Every game you’re walking out of there with some kind of prize,” he said.
And when it’s time to offer corporate and themed events, Sorcher said the team really hits its stride, especially when getting smaller local businesses involved.
“Statistically, you actually see more small companies do these nights,” he said.
For the corporate crowd, the team offers a variety of amenities and works hard to make the special event memorable. There are luxury suites and the team will help a company create an employee or customer appreciation night.
He says the management is sure to always ask the team sponsors a key question: “How do you say thank you to your employees, your customers?”
When they say they’ve not really done anything formal, the Whalers are more than ready to step in.
“Basically, for a $10 to $15 ticket, we can put together a great show, a great time and you’re going to get all the credit,” Sorcher said.
They will help invite people, create flyers and make sure things run smoothly on site.
After all, it’s just part of the minor-league culture, said Sorcher, who has spent more than 20 years as a sports marketing executive.
Traditionally, he said, minor-league sports are “inflation-proof and economy-proof.”
“People are not going to stay at home,” he said. They are always looking for a fun night out close to home and when the economy is tight, those affordable nights out become a priority.
The Whalers, he said, are focused on being a part of the community — when times are tough and when they bounce back.
That’s why the team has so many promotions and community events, such as a reading program. Players are always out in the community, making visits to everywhere from schools to scout groups to local businesses.
This season, Sorcher said, things are looking up, with attendance figures already a bit higher than last year.
“It’s been good. It’s been steady,” he said. “We got (off) to a great start where we were ahead of last year.”
Usually, the second half of the season — under way now — witnesses more growth, so Sorcher said things appear positive. Fans seem to be coming from farther away, the Whalers’ reach extending beyond its traditional half-hour pull.
As Sorcher said, with the Danbury Whalers, it’s all about the game, the experience — and an exciting afternoon or night out.
“Hockey fans are passionate fans. If you’re doing a good job and (offering) a good product, people will get there,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re stealing fans from the New York Rangers, but if you come to one game, you’ll come back.”