After the whirlwind of teams that have come and gone from the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, Kurt Silcott is looking for a way to help keep the Jamestown Ironmen afloat.
Earlier this week, Ironmen owner Kenji Yamada spoke about how he felt the team could be better marketed to area residents and how he was actively trying to find a way to do just that - a sentiment that Silcott, the arena's CEO, echoed.
"That's the million-dollar debate - figuring out what the best way to market anything anywhere might be," said Silcott. "I know the expectations were below what the owner and the team had hoped. We're all a bit perplexed as to why they aren't doing better in regard to community support. We'd like to see the city get behind the team. We have a good team and a good product, so it may just be one of those things that takes time."
The Jamestown Ironmen have struggled to fill prime seating areas for many games this season and now owner Kenji Yamada is seeking a local ownership partner. From the Jamestown Titans to the Jamestown Vikings and the Jamestown Jets, low-level hockey has struggled to catch on in the city.
P-J photo by Scott Reagle
According to Silcott, the average attendance for Ironmen games is roughly 658 people per game, but he says that he'd like to see it higher than that. He attributed some of the low numbers to the less-than-hospitable weather that Jamestown has seen recently. Despite the recent NHL lockout, there wasn't a noticeable spike in attendance at the Jamestown Saving Bank Arena, either.
"The NHL lockout didn't play much of a factor at all in our attendance, interestingly enough," said Silcott. "I don't know how many people from this area go up to Sabres games, but I'm sure that there are some. This is really good hockey, though, and I think some of these players will land in the NHL eventually."
Silcott also noted that although attendance has generally been lower than expected, some of the promotions have had the desired effect. During the recent "Kid's Day" game, the arena drew more than 1,600 people.
Prior to the Ironmen, the most recent team to take to the ice at the arena was the Jamestown Jets. Following a three-season tenure at the arena, Dennis Canfield, the owner of the Jets, became embroiled in a lawsuit against the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, Yamada and the NAHL. The suit claimed that the defendants had "conspired to break an exclusive lease with the arena," according to Canfield. The lawsuit came to light after the end of the 2010-2011 season when the arena began talks with Yamada in order to bring the Ironmen to Jamestown. That lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase in state Supreme Court in Buffalo.
These were not the first issues that Jamestown had seen arise from a local hockey team.
The Jamestown Vikings, who made their debut in 2007, were welcomed with open arms when they arrived in the city. The owner, looking for a name that would tie the organization to the region, held a contest to let the fans name the team. Early on, the team was saw praise coming from the community.
"I haven't felt this much excitement in Jamestown ever." said Matthew Clark, a spectator at a Vikings game. "The game's been amazing and I already have tickets for the game on Saturday. I'm loving it."
At the peak, the Vikings were drawing nearly 1,200 fans to the arena on game nights, and Jamestown was even touted as one of the most well-attended arenas in the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League. Eighty games into the inaugural season, however, the MAHL cancelled the remainder of the games that were slated to be played. Despite a strong turnout in Jamestown, other league teams were having difficulties drawing fans to the games and the league ended operations.
Shortly after the announcement was made that the season would be ending, several players from the Vikings turned their anger toward the historic Vikings Lodge on the corner of Washington and Fourth streets. When police arrived on scene at the lodge, there were reportedly more than a dozen players still inside, most of them passed out or drunk. According to reports, chairs had been smashed through doors, virtually every piece of glass had been shattered, a fire had been set in the kitchen, and garbage and debris were scattered everywhere.
Shortly after the incident at the Vikings Lodge, the team was moved to Ohio, still owing thousands of dollars to several area businesses. Andrew Haines, MAHL founder and owner of the Vikings, said that moving the team to a new market would give the organization the best chance to work off its debt to Jamestown.
Many area residents may not even remember the first ill-fated foray into the world of hockey for the arena. While the arena was under the direction of Carl Sasyn, the Jamestown Titans were brought to the city as a member of the now-defunct North Eastern Hockey League. Jim Cashman, founder of the NEHL, said that Jamestown was the first arena that was approached to have a team brought in. When asked why, Cashman responded, "Location and facility. It's by far the nicest rink in the league so far."
With no strong local connections to the city, however, including a name that was picked from a computer football game, the team struggled from the start. Poor organizational decisions surrounded the NEHL, including scheduling games at odd times and having ever-changing ticket prices. The postseason only made matters worse after a last-minute decision to have second- and third-seeded teams, Jamestown and the York IceCats, play a two-game series to decide the league winners after the first-place Mohawk Valley Comets didn't want to travel for the championship series. Following the postseason debacle, the Jamestown Titans were disbanded.
Despite the issues that the area has seen in the past, Silcott remains optimistic and is looking for a way to bring more fans to the arena for Ironmen games.
"We're in the second year and we've found some things that we think are working," said Silcott. "We're taking notes and making a marketing profile that works for us."