Colorado College hockey is money.
The program brings in millions in ticket sales and sponsorships, attracts thousands of loyal fans and elevates the college’s profile to a national stage.
CC ranks eighth in college hockey revenue behind giants like Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, and fifth when it comes to fans — with as many as 135,000 in attendance per season.
And Colorado College only has a student body of 2,000.
“Hockey has a longtime tradition, over 70 years, in Colorado Springs,” said CC head coach Scott Owens. “The tie with The Broadmoor hotel is huge, the quality of the games, the international competition that came to the World Arena — the difference now is the number in attendance, and it’s much more consistent and a greater number.”
As the Tigers prepare now for the 2012-2013 season with an exhibition game Oct. 7 against the University of British Columbia and its season-opening home game Oct. 12 against Clarkson, the CC athletic department’s finance expert is counting on cha-ching.
“Hockey is where we make money — it supports the overall sports program,” said Scott Lowenberg, Colorado College associate athletic director. All told, annual revenue is about $3 million, which covers all expenses and leaves the program profitable.
Sure, there is pressure to keep putting out a winning program that draws the fans and attracts sponsors, said Owens, himself a former CC player and graduate who took over as head coach in 1999. He’s led the team to the NCAA Tournament six times. Following each of those strong showings, season ticket sales go up.
“The added pressure is something that makes the job challenging and fun,” he said.
Colorado College’s ice hockey team has been part of the city’s culture since Spencer Penrose and Charles Tutt dreamed up a new way to use an old equestrian center at The Broadmoor.
In 1938, they opened the Ice Palace, which became home to the CC Tigers and Broadmoor Skating Club. Recruiting top college hockey players from Canada and New England began immediately, and the college and Ice Palace went on to host the first 10 NCAA hockey championships (1948-57). The palace was renamed the Broadmoor World Arena around 1960.
“CC was the community team — it was the entertainment for Colorado Springs,” Lowenberg said.
Fifteen years ago, The Broadmoor hotel tore down its World Arena to make way for the hotel’s newest wing of rooms. But a city-wide fundraising effort, helped by El Pomar Foundation, soon led to building Colorado Springs World Arena, which opened in 1998.
“We went from 3,000 seats to 7,300 seats,” Lowenberg said. “At that point, we made ourselves even more critical in revenue. Our annual attendance is 130,000 spectators — it’s more of a big-time program.”
Since then, most home games draw 7,000 or more fans, filling the World Arena to 92 percent capacity and ranking high nationally.
“It impresses me,” Owens said. “The support the community has given us over the years — we are both a school team and a community team, and that is very unique in itself.”
On average, about 500 CC students attend Tiger games.
“That means well over 6,000 people from the community are the ones buying tickets,” Lowenberg said.
Hockey is not necessarily America’s pastime and doesn’t have much TV exposure to win over new fans, Lowenberg said. Also, more than 80 percent of CC’s hockey fans have no affiliation with the college.
“We find hockey is a sport you have to see in person,” Lowenberg said. “People who have no association with hockey — once they go, they love it.”
Maybe it’s the music, or the fans clad in gold and black; or maybe it’s the Tigers’ winning record that keeps fans coming back. But ticket sales now represent about $1.7 million.
“For us, we are always looking to grow ticket sales,” Lowenberg said.
Those 7,000 sets of eyes on dasher boards around the rink have helped grow CC hockey sponsorships. There’s a waiting list for advertisers who want to pay $10,000 for their company name and logo on a dasher board. Four large sponsors — Taco Bell, Toyota, Wells Fargo and Sinton Dairy — get their name painted center rink in the ice for $20,000.
In the past seven years, sponsorship dollars have gone from $100,000 to $450,000 a season. And sponsors are now typically inking deals for five years — meaning they are committing to $100,000 in advertising at CC games, Lowenberg said.
“In today’s world of advertising, it’s hard to hit your target audience,” Lowenberg said. “Sports marketing across the country is a huge priority for businesses to get involved in.”
CC fans are a great target market: They live in the Springs and they are spending money — from $9 to $45 per ticket — on entertainment.
“It’s a great place to hang our brand on a legendary institution,” said Mark Bittle, CenturyLink market development manager, public relations. “We do have opportunity through the season to showcase our products and services.”
CenturyLink, a telecommunications company, is all in with the dasher board, “Chuck a Puck” promo, a banner on the ice and the Zamboni wrap.
“It provides us the opportunity to have a captive audience and be affiliated with a legendary program,” Bittle said. “You think about our services, broadband entertainment, voice and wireless services, we reach the consumer marketplace, we are reaching the business marketplace, and we are able to reach military folks — it’s a reach across all demographics of product and services.”
It’s not necessarily CC alums who pack into the World Arena. Game nights often are a who’s who of the business world. Central Bancorp has been a sponsor at CC hockey games for the past four years. With their sponsorship, the bank gets a set of tickets to every home game and a chance to host a party at the arena’s Wigand Room for 150 guests.
“Our marketing strategy is focused on relationship building — making sure we know our clients,” said Charles Lamb, Central Bancorp director of marketing. “And part of getting to know them on a personal level helps us understand their needs. Going to a game, versus sitting in a board room, helps us to talk to the clients.”
Some of CC’s strategies are tough to calculate. For example, licensing the Tiger hockey brand is not a huge moneymaker for the athletic program. Neither are the televised gigs on NBC Sports network or CBS Sports network. But there is no way to calculate the value of exposure to the college and Colorado Springs, Lowenberg said.
“Exposure is what we want,” Lowenberg said.
CC contracts with License Resource Group, which handles the use of the team’s logo on clothing and sports gear. CC then gets a cut on sales — it adds up to about $50,000 a year. The televised games garner about $25,000 a year.
“It’s more about getting our brand and logo out there,” Lowenberg said.
Owens said he feels good about the money and support CC hockey brings to the entire athletic department and the college.
“Our sponsors want to be involved with a quality product,” he said. “I think they are proud of the product — World Arena is a great venue. When you come out on Friday or Saturday night, it’s good entertainment value — that’s probably a pretty good crowd for their market dollar in terms of purchasing power.”
$1.7 million in ticket sales
$450,000 in corporate sponsors, including dasher board signs in the World Arena
$500,000 in credit, such as television, radio and print advertisements
$50,000 through the licensing program of CC hockey merchandise
$25,000 in TV programming sponsorships.
Colorado Springs recently took another seat at the national college hockey table when the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference made the Springs its headquarters.
It’s a move sure to bring in coaches and board members from across the country and solidify Colorado Springs as a true hockey town.
The new league includes eight schools and was formed by a combination of schools from other leagues. It includes Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan, and begins conference play in the 2013-2014 season.
“It’s a big positive for Colorado Springs that the league decided to make its national headquarters here,” said Mike Moran, senior Sports Corp. media consultant who recently signed a short-term contract as the league’s media relations consultant. “It’s a league that has a very exciting future in terms of powerhouse league and rankings.”
CC has long been part of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the nation’s oldest hockey conference. A big shakeup last year led to the new league — programs wanted to protect their recruiting, ticket revenue and prestige, Moran said. All told, the WCHA programs made more than $9 million in profits in 2010.
“It’s the type of deal that keeps us together with some longtime traditional opponents — Denver, Minnesota-Duluth,” said Scott Owens, CC head hockey coach. “It keeps us viable and very relevant in hockey world. It will be competitive, no doubt.”
It made sense for the league to choose Colorado Springs as its headquarters, Moran said. The city is practical for meetings and college hockey won’t be overshadowed by professional sports.
“There is a feeling for college hockey that goes back with the first national championship,” Moran said. “They also know in our town, college hockey gets a lot of attention.”
If you’re new to hockey and have trouble keeping up with a conversation because you’re confused by the slang, SchoolYardPuck.com offers some help.
Bender — A lousy player who always seems to have his ankles bent.
Biscuit — A puck.
Breezers — Hockey pants.
Brain Bucket (or just Bucket) — A helmet.
Celly — A celebration, usually done after scoring a goal
Coast to Coast — When a player carries the puck from his own net all the way to his opponent’s and scores.
Chirp — To talk trash.
Gongshow — A rough, intense game.
Grinder — A player who digs deep, hustles to make plays; usually better known for checking and disruption rather than scoring ability. Like a lineman in football, he works hard but rarely gets recognized for his hard work.
Enforcer — A player who takes on the role of discouraging the opposing team from harassing his goal scoring teammate by imposing the threat of physical harm.
Hoser — A loser. Originated from pre-Zamboni days when the losers had to hose off the ice.
Mucker — A physical player who lacks finesse but gets the job done by forechecking, working the boards, etc. He is not afraid to do the dirty work. Usually used interchangeably or in connection with grinder.
Puck Bunny — A girl who is more interested in getting the player’s attention than watching the game.
Pylon — Skater who just stands still and is as easy to skate around as an orange cone.
Sin Bin — The penalty box.