Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Thin Ice? How to Boost Youth Hockey Numbers

     Is your youth hockey program battling to reverse a down-turn in participation? We're here to help. Behind every good fighter, is a good trainer. In your corner, is skilled and seasoned hockey mom, Kristin Fleet Haag, CPA Treasurer, with Rome Youth Hockey Association. Rome's program has seen a remarkable turnaround, thanks to a strategy of working as a team to grow their teams.

How to Grow The Game 
 By Kristin Fleet Haag      

 We are located in Rome, New York, a community that has seen a declining population and a changing demographic over the last 25 years.  We were a huge hockey town, where both high school teams were Section 3 Champs and New York State Champs for both Division 1 and Division 2 High School Hockey.  We now have only one high school in our community. 

Back in 2008-2009 our City completed a $3.0 million renovation on our facility - the Bill Fleet Rink at the John F. Kennedy Civic Arena.  Shortly after that our numbers declined pretty drastically.

Our learn to skate or initiation program numbers decreased from over 100 skaters to just 60 skaters.  Of course, that is the feeder program to our higher levels.  We knew we had to take action.

I joined our board in 2012, when my son who was going to be a second year Pee Wee, was not going to have a travel team to play on.  By the time the season actually rolled around, there was no house team either.  My youngest boy had just started in the learn to skate program as well.  At that point, I knew I needed to do something.  I joined the board.  My dad, who is a lifetime member, also was actively involved.  We held meetings with community members and hockey folks to brain storm how to get our numbers up. 

Keys to Victory

*  Hired a marketing firm and launched a print and media campaign.  It was expensive (around $5,000), but well worth the investment.  Our IP numbers grew back to over 100 that year. We continue to run the campaign each year.  We used our hometown NHL/AHL Stars Tim and Tom Sestito in the commercials for us.  

* Worked with our City to reduce our ice fees.  My first year - I negotiated a temporary reduction.  The second year, I negotiated a permanent reduction.  We went from an average of $105 per hour to $85 per hour.  If our ice fees are lower, we can lower our reg fees, and increase volume....

* We sold ourselves to the community.  We started attending community events (ie.  Honor America Day Parade, Home Show, Dog Show).  Also, we made our ice slots more working parent friendly.  Some teams used to practice at 6:00 am before school.  We rearranged the ice slots so that all practices started after 5:00 pm.  We also sold our great coaching staff!

*  My second year, we wanted a better handle on our numbers, so we offered an early registration discount at 25-30% savings.  My third year, we reduced even further.  We are now arguably the lowest price shop in town...Squirt and up are at $425, Mites at $215, and Learn to Skate at $160.  This year we launched our online registration process.

* Tournaments - we invested time and sweat equity into these.  My first year on there was no Mite Tournament.  Last year we hosted a Mite Tournament with 18 teams, this year we had 26 teams with over 310 kids. 

* We rebranded ourselves.  Changed our colors, logo, and new jerseys (we don't charge our members).  One of our board members wrote a grant.  He secured $22,000 for the purchase of new jerseys.

*  This year we purchased cross-ice dividers, partnering with our City.  Also, we applied for USA Hockey's grow the game grant, which I believe we will secure the funding. 

We are a 501C3 which is pretty important when looking to secure grant funding. 

Best of luck to you and your organization!