The crowds are much smaller compared to other years so far this season for Seattle Thunderbirds hockey games at the city of Kent-owned accesso ShoWare Center.
T-Birds President Colin Campbell said a lack of group ticket sales and opposition by some to required vaccination cards are the primary reasons for the lower attendance.
The team drew 3,246 to its home opener Saturday, Oct. 9 against the rival Portland Winterhawks and just 2,268 for a Tuesday, Oct. 15 game against the Spokane Chiefs when people could buy two tickets for the price of one, an annual Tuesday night promotion the T-Birds have done for several years.
In comparison, during the Western Hockey League 2o19-2020 season, prior to COVID-19, the T-Birds drew 4,659 to their home opener against the Kamloops and 3,897 to its first Tuesday game against Victoria with the cheaper tickets. The smallest crowd all season was 3,064 on Feb. 23.
“We are a bit behind with our attendance to start the season off,” Campbell said at an Oct. 28 meeting of the Public Facilities District Board, which helps oversee operations at the arena. “It’s 100% attributed to our group program and being able to sell group tickets. Companies aren’t doing those kinds of things right now. It’s really impacted us. We are not like the (Seattle) Kraken that sell out on single-game buyers. We really go after the groups and get our business that way.”
Campbell said King County’s requirement for fans to be vaccinated caused some people who bought season tickets to ask for refunds.
“We are off about 15% to 20% on our season ticket base and that’s because of the vaccination card mandate,” Campbell said. “We have had quite a few refunds that we needed to do. That is slowly trickling back. People are realizing that they need to do that (show proof of vaccination) in whatever they want to do in today’s world, going to a restaurant and those kind of things.”
Campbell said the team’s ticket staff is focusing to increase single-game buyers until group tickets return. He expects attendance will increase, especially later in the season, which runs until April 3 and possibly later if Seattle makes the playoffs.
“We started about two weeks later than when we normally start the season,” Campbell said. “We usually start the third week of September and we did not start until first week of October. Turns out for us, it’ll be better because it adds two weeks to the end of the schedule and our attendance always picks up as the season goes on.
“So being able to add two weeks to the back of the season will boost our attendance overall because we do better with our season finish.”
The T-Birds are the anchor tenant of the ShoWare Center. The city of Kent has a 30-year agreement with the team, which moved to Kent in 2009 from the former KeyArena in Seattle. The city has a 5% admissions tax on each ticket sold that goes into the city’s general fund and so far, back to pay for ShoWare Center expenses and capital projects.
Greg Haffner, chairman of the Public Facilities District Board, attended the Kraken NHL preseason game Oct. 2 at the ShoWare Center, a sellout crowd at the 6,200-seat facility.
“It was packed, and the lines were long at the concessions,” Haffner said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t that way for the T-Birds games. There was a big difference in crowds.”
The T-Birds and ShoWare Center officials had hoped to have a new scoreboard for the 2021-2022 season but there’s been another delay in the manufacturing of the product.
The Kent City Council in February approved spending $300,000 toward a new $800,000 scoreboard. SMG, which operates the arena, will pay the remaining $500,000. The arena has the original scoreboard from when it opened in 2009.
South Dakota-based Daktronics informed ShoWare Center General Manager Tim Higgins last week that it won’t be able to hit the Nov. 13 delivery date.
“It’s due to supply chain, shortage of labor and everything you hear,” Higgins said at the Public Facilities District meeting. “We don’t know when the date is going to be for the scoreboard installation. It is disappointing, we are excited to get this in.”
Higgins said everybody else in the arena business has faced the same problem if they are looking for a video board or scoreboard.
“Everybody’s being pushed out, except for Climate Pledge Arena, they got their nice shiny new toy and it’s beautiful,” Higgins said about the two scoreboards at the new complex.
The pandemic, and a performer’s illness, impacted the ShoWare Center with the cancellation of four shows in September and October.
The canceled shows included a Christian festival, rapper Wiz Khalifa, country singer Cody Johnson and Christian singer Jeremy Camp. Nearly 3,000 tickets had been sold for Johnson’s show on Oct. 16. Johnson canceled a week prior to the concert due to illness as he had a severe sinus infection, according to the ShoWare Center website.
Crowds are returning for Disney on Ice during its Oct. 27 through Nov. 1 run. That show has always drawn well in Kent.