T-Birds at ShoWare: First season went well

T-Bird Prab Rai gets a high five from teammate Stefan Warg as he gets off the ice in the T-Birds’ first game on ShoWare ice in January.

T-Bird Prab Rai gets a high five from teammate Stefan Warg as he gets off the ice in the T-Birds’ first game on ShoWare ice in January.

Seattle Thunderbird hockey officials expect tickets to a T-Bird game to be a hotter item next year than the ‘Birds’ just-ended opening season at the Kent ShoWare Center.

A total of 110,454 fans attended the 27 T-bird games played from January through March at the ShoWare Center. That’s an average of 4,088 fans per game, in a stadium with 6,000 seats.

But the Thunderbirds can do better, say top brass here.

“We plan on improving on that,” said Russ Farwell, the T-Birds’ general manager, in a phone interview last Wednesday. “We had a number of games in a condensed time. It was not realistic to expect new fans to go to as many as six games in nine nights.”

The Thunderbirds moved to Kent from the KeyArena in Seattle midway through their 2008-2009 season. That was just after construction ended in late December on the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds, a junior team in the Western Hockey League, played numerous road games the first few months of the season in order to play more home games in Kent.

That condensed local play schedule made it more complex bringing fans in time after time.

For the 2009-10 season, which runs from September to March, the T-Birds will spread their home games out a bit more.

“Our main rival games did very well,” Farwell said of attendance this past season when Portland and Everett were here. “The weeknights we want to improve.”

The T-Birds drew a season-high of 6,138 fans for a Feb. 28 game against Portland, one of three sellouts. A season-low 2,327 fans showed up for a Jan. 27 game against Medicine Hat.

T-Bird officials had hoped to sell as many as 2,500 season tickets for the 25 regular-season games this past season in Kent. They actually wound up selling 1,900. But even that reduced amount was two times what they sold for the final season at KeyArena.

“We were fairly satisfied, overall,” Farwell said. “Our goal was 2,500, but then the economy skittered and we saw sales ground to a halt.”

Farwell said the 2,500 was simply a number officials had “picked out of the air.”

“But we believe we can get to that point next season,” Farwell said. “And our goal might even be higher. If we get 2,500 season tickets or up, even a weeknight game we could draw 3,500 to 4,000. If we get that on a slow night, we’ll see a jump in average attendance because we know we’ll have good crowds against rivals and on weekends.”

The T-Birds will send out renewal letters for season-ticket holders in late April, said Ian Henry, T-Bird director of media relations. Henry noted single-game ticket buyers from last season also will be contacted about season tickets. An early-bird special price will be available in May, June and July.

Ticket prices will remain the same next season, Farwell said. Tickets for single games, not yet for sale, are $22 for most seats or $16 for adults and $12 for children in the arena’s “family zone,” where no alcohol is allowed.

The 2009-2010 season opens in mid-September. The regular-season schedule will be released in July.

Despite crowds that might not have been as large as anticipated, Farwell came away impressed with the first season at the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds have a 30-year lease with the city of Kent to use the arena.

“We were very happy with the building,” Farwell said. “I can’t say it’s a lot different than what we expected, but you never know until you’re in it. I’m very happy with how we were able to present the game for the fan’s experience. And the team was very excited and real happy with the building.”

The T-Birds won 17 of their 25 regular-season games at the ShoWare Center.

“The home record was real good,” Farwell said. “That’s a good first impression for the fans.”

There will be a few minor changes for next year, including better replay capability on the center scoreboard screens. Replays could only be shown from one camera angle rather than all three cameras. That made the replays of plays around the net difficult to see.

“We’ll show more close-in shots,” Farwell said.

Overall, the T-birds were pleased with their first year in Kent.

“I think we were well-received in the community,” Farwell said.

For season tickets, call the T-Birds at 253-239-7825.

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