I write mostly about the activities on the ice concerning the Motor City Rockers, be it game recaps or the players on the team. In reality, that all means little if the franchise isn't healthy and stable. Minor league hockey, especially at the single and double A level, is overloaded with franchises that did not succeed long-term and either folded or moved. I speak from experience just from supporting and covering the last two minor pro teams that played out of what is now known as Big Boy Arena in Fraser. The Detroit Falcons of the Colonial/United League lasted five years here from 1991-1996 before moving to Port Huron to become the Border Cats. The Motor City Mechanics of the UHL only survived two seasons from 2004-2006 before closing up shop, despite the added gimmick of NHL players like Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher suiting up for them during the lockout in 2005.
In the case of both the Falcons and Mechanics, attendance was a major factor. In their final season in Fraser, the Falcons reported an average of 2,046 fans a game, their highest in their five seasons there. Trust me, I was at those games, that team didn't draw 2,000 fans a night. Attendance figures were fudged, it happens all the time in minor league hockey. The Mechanics averaged 1,775 and 1,602 in their two seasons, again numbers I seriously question considering what my eyes saw in the stands. It's no secret the Rockers' attendance in their inaugural season was not where the organization would like it to be, but the FPHL also has a much lower operating budget than the UHL did back in its time. Not to mention the under the table shenanigans many UHL teams pulled off to subvert the league's salary cap. Minor league sports can be a tough sell in the metro Detroit market, but not an impossible one if you find your niche. I've watched two teams I loved move or fold, it sucks, and I know there are other fans of both teams that now attend Rockers' games and can attest to how much it sucks.
My experience from over thirty years of following minor pro and junior hockey in this area is there is that group that will simply never support something that is not the NHL. Any minor league is a "beer league" and junior hockey is "kid's hockey." Totally ridiculous, uneducated takes by the way. Keep in mind, we had major junior OHL hockey in this area, as good as junior hockey gets, both in Detroit and then Plymouth, featuring future NHL stars on a nightly basis, and that mentality was still prevalent in this group of hockey fans. Running an OHL team is also not a cheap venture and the Whalers, who drew better than the Falcons or Mechanics ever did, eventually moved to Flint. The primary target market for the Rockers are those looking for an affordable, fun night out, be it families, friends, groups or open-minded fans of hockey. Of course you have those minor league hockey fanatics like myself, but we aren't enough to fill the barn. Every single person I talked to, either in person or online last season, came away with a positive experience after attending a Rockers' game. It's just a matter of making people aware of the team and getting them out to a game. Once you've been to one, you're hooked.
One major way to help build that fan base is through corporate partnerships and the Rockers have been busy this week announcing a slew of new partners and promotions that will help draw more people to games and contribute to the overall health of the franchise. I've been thinking about this topic a lot since the team announced the hiring of Scott Brand as the Team President back in May, but was just looking for the right time to write about it more in-depth. Brand has a track record of nothing but success, especially in this league, as he helped build the solid foundation of both Carolina and Columbus before coming home to Michigan to help lead the Rockers' organization.
When I was brainstorming about potential partners I'd like to see the Rockers pursue, Meijer was at the top of my list and the team announced a partnership with the Michigan institution in August. Meijer will serve as the team's Media, Party Suite and Autism Awareness Night sponsor. Then in September, the team named Insight as its official healthcare provider, as well as a segment sponsor during game broadcasts. Both of these were a solid start.
Now this week, the partnership announcements have been overflowing. The team is collaborating with brewing giant Labatt to bring $2 Beer Night to Big Boy Arena for select games. Bells/New Belgium Brewery will sponsor Sunday home games with a "Sunday Funday" promotion as well as an Ugly Sweater Night in December. Serta Mattresses is on-board as the "Official Sleep Partner". Anytime Fitness is the "Official Workout Partner" for the franchise. Fraser's own institution, Schott's Market will sponsor this season's "Chuck A Puck" promotion. These have all been announced in just the last two days.
Now I am not going to use this blog to post an update every time a new partnership or sponsor is announced, but I felt this was the perfect time to address such an important issue facing the franchise. Their inaugural season was a bit of a whirlwind trying to start a new professional sports franchise from scratch so the amount of corporate partners and sponsors was lacking. But the team succeeded with a successful season on the ice and a well-run organization off the ice thanks to the work of GM Nick Field and head coach Gordie Brown, and with a whole off-season to focus on building corporate partnerships and their fan base, the hiring of Brand showed how serious this franchise is about making things work here long term. These announcements, and I am sure more that will follow, show how that hire is paying off. This is exactly what he did in his previous stops in his career.
In addition to these new partners, the franchise also announced it is teaming up with both WJR and WCSX as their official radio partners. WJR will offer exclusive radio broadcasts of Rockers' games and both stations will provide additional coverage of the team through interviews, radio shows and the like. All of these partnerships are tremendously positive for the organization, and its diehard fans, as it will help grow the team's footprint in the metro Detroit market. With Motor City's home opener still over a week away, I'd expect to see more of these announcements before the puck drops at Big Boy Arena on the second Rockers' campaign.