*This is the fourth of a seven-part season series, titled ‘The California Cold Rush’ that will explore key points in the growing popularity of hockey in California over the last 25 years, which has ultimately led to the much-anticipated Outdoor Game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks to be played at Dodgers Stadium on January 25, 2014. Tickets for that game are now on sale.*
They say that water is the lifeblood of the earth.
This has to make perfect sense to anyone who lives and breathes hockey, since ice is simply frozen water, and where would hockey be without ice?
When the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks faceoff at Dodgers Stadium on January 25, it’ll be an event largely inspired by the number of ice rinks that have popped up throughout southern California in the last 25 years that directly impacted the growth of hockey’s popularity in the area.
So the answer to that question is something along the lines of: not in California.
“The community outreach programs of the Kings and Ducks have played a significant role in creating [the Dodgers Stadium Game],” says Brad Berman, President and Partner of American Skating Entertainment Centers, LLC. “Being a part of the community fabric, creating goodwill, and having an entertaining on-ice experience for the fans creates the support that drives interest to the rinks.”
ASEC is currently the largest independent owner/operator of rink facilities in the United States. They also own and operate unique multi-sport centers, and their wholly-owned subsidiary, American Outdoor Skating Centers, strategically places outdoor skating rinks within specific entertainment districts. Toyota Sports Center, LA Galaxy Soccer Center, and LA Live’s Holiday Ice are among their Los Angeles ventures.
Berman opened Iceoplex in North Hills in 1992, which served as the official training center for the Kings, before the opening of Toyota Sports Center. Prior to the opening of Iceoplex, Southern California had six ice rinks – Burbank, North Hollywood, West Covina, Pasadena, Culver City and Harbor City.
Today, there are 32 ice rinks operating in Southern California.
“The market has always embraced the sport,” says Berman, who has been involved in SoCal hockey since 1983. “It’s a matter of giving people the opportunity to participate and enjoy that helps to create the growth.”
After having a hand in more than 30 rink facilities across the country in the last 25 years, Berman is no stranger to hockey market trends and the growth that LA has seen recently. He believes that the retail side of the business, which is comprised of the public skating, learn to play hockey, and learn to skate demographic, is created within a five to eight mile radius of any given rink.
“So if you have the demographics and the interest, which, the Kings drive that interest level, then you open a rink and you’ll create new skaters and hockey players in the five to eight mile radius,” Berman explains. “As the rink matures, the radius shifts and expands.”
Each quarter, TSC conducts analysis on rink patrons, which proves that a majority of business does indeed come from people who live within a five to eight mile radius. Berman uses this same type of data collected from the last 30 years to decide when and where to build rinks. As a rule of thumb, Berman does not consider opening rinks in cities where there isn’t an NHL team.
At a facility like TSC, which has an operating cost of approximately $4 million annually, hockey comprises about 45 percent of the gross revenue stream. That said, it’s worth it for facilities to offer free learning programs to attract new clientele, such as TSC’s First Goal program.
With First Goal, kids ages four to eight who aren’t already enrolled in a hockey program can participate in a four-week course that offers equipment rental, instruction, and ice time completely free, aside from a refundable deposit for the gear.
“Once they play and experience the game, they’re going to be hooked,” reasons Berman.
Although youngsters make up a large part of the hockey demographic, they don’t typically play year-round. Therefore, the puck doesn’t stop at youth hockey.
“Adult leagues are critical to the success of any rink because they are a year-round customer base, they aren’t seasonal,” admits Berman. “Adults will play ten and a half months out of the year – as soon as playoffs are done they’re ready to go again.”
At TSC there are an astounding 72 adult teams that play recreational, organized hockey, and that’s only because there isn’t space for more. There is a running wait list that could push the number of teams to 100 easily if there was more ice and time. Last year, eight-team divisions grew to nine teams in order to accommodate 12 additional teams.
“Adult hockey is very popular across the country and it’s no different in Southern California,” Berman says.
Another success factor for ASEC is the growing popularity of seasonal outdoor skating rinks. Entertainment hotspots in cities like Long Beach, Santa Monica, downtown LA, Irvine and Anaheim have opened outdoor rinks for public skating throughout the holidays and have been met with popular demand.
Five years ago, when ASEC debuted Holiday Ice at LA Live, the size of the rink was 40 by 60 feet wide, a far cry from an NHL-sized rink, which measures 85 by 200 feet. Due to demand, last year, the rink measured 80 by 130 feet.
“Last year it was amazing, people were waiting two and a half hours in line to skate,” recalls Berman.
This year the rink will feature the same dimensions, with oversized Christmas tree in the middle. Holiday Ice will run from Saturday, November 30, 2013 until New Year’s Eve, with tree lighting ceremonies on Monday, December 2.
Maybe with all the outdoor rinks throughout Southern California during the winter, it won’t seem so strange to have one in the middle of a baseball field.
After all, it’s only frozen water.
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