Many different factors come into play when it comes to building a successful sports franchise.
In Greater Victoria, winning has been a major factor in getting fans out, but even that hasn’t always ensured success at the box office, as the B.C. Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies can attest.
Rare is the scenario of late that a team with a modest record draws lots of fans, but this year’s edition of the Victoria HarbourCats was a good example. That’s part of the reason why the Grizzlies have tagged ‘Cats general manager and co-owner Jim Swanson to help give the hockey team a boost in the front office.
Swanson, a Langford resident, was announced as the Grizzlies’ new director of operations, joining vice-president of operations, Sonja Saujani, in overseeing the business and hockey sides of the franchise. With Saujani returning to work full-time outside the club, Swanson will be more involved in the day-to-day operations.
“We need to get the Grizzlies back in the forefront of the sporting community in Victoria,” said Grizzlies president John Wilson. “We need to get more bums in seats and more corporate sponsorship … Those are two areas Jim is going to work hard on to try and improve.”
Wilson, also part owner of the HarbourCats, calls Swanson a “good fit with my business style,” adding he was “thoroughly impressed” with the job Swanson did this year with the baseball team. Not only did the club lead the 12-team West Coast League in attendance for a second straight season with an average of 1,910 fans per game, Royal Athletic Park was the place to be on a warm summer evening or afternoon.
While they were effectively the only game in town, unlike the Grizzlies in the shadow of the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals, it’s that type of atmosphere Swanson hopes to help create for the Grizzlies.
He served as an advisor last season and sees positive things happening for the team, such as players becoming more involved in the community and partnerships being built with various sports groups and businesses. Also important for retaining fans and boosting their relevance here has been their ability to remain competitive in the BCHL, he said, giving kudos to head coach/GM Craig Didmon and his staff.
“This is such a fast-growing community and I think teams like the Grizzlies can be a rallying point with the West Shore community and some of its passions,” said Swanson, who worked for various B.C. newspapers before moving to town a couple of years ago. “I think that West Shore community attachment is something that could be grown.”
While the Grizzlies draw fans from around the Capital Region, it’s safe to say the majority live within a 10 to 15-minute drive of The Q Centre in Colwood, where parking is free and ticket prices reasonable.
“It’s probably the greatest area of growth potential,” Swanson said, in terms of both corporate partnerships and fan base. “Things like making sure the Juan de Fuca hockey program is very much involved, and maybe partnering with Westhills Arena. The Grizzlies have the product to create the atmosphere and more people in the building (enhances) that atmosphere.”
With training camp for the 2015-16 season happening this weekend, Swanson expected to use this week “doing homework,” reading up on the players coming to town and learning more about the various facets of the operation.