Elite seats heating up UML hockey

08/09/2007
By From the Lowell Sun

By Michael Lafleur

LOWELL -- With more than two months before the hockey team's first home game at the Tsongas Arena, UMass Lowell River Hawks boosters already have sold more than 600 season tickets to a revamped club seating section.

The ticket drive's success to date has been beyond even the most rapid booster's wildest dreams.

When new UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan earlier this summer tasked a blue-ribbon committee with building a new sense of excitement for the team, the initial goal was to sell 375 of the $299 seats for next season's 19 home games. That first 375 seats, on either side of center ice, sold out in two weeks. University and arena officials then added 439 new club seats across four sections in the northern end of the rink.

As of yesterday, committee members had commitments for 609 club seat season tickets.

The idea, said committee chairman Mike Kuenzler, is to not just sell tickets but create "an environment that you're going to want to be in socially."

So far, it's been working, said Kuenzler, a Lowell business owner. He noted that arena officials last year sold only 36 season tickets in the club seats sections, generating $9,000.

University officials this year revamped the club sections, providing new benefits for members, including: Access to a new Talon Club Function Room and a restricted area that will feature a cash bar, food buffet and views of the ice; preferred parking to all UMass Lowell events at the arena; and the rights to pre-purchase tickets to all other arena concerts and events before they are made available to the general public.

"The numbers don't lie, and we've got the numbers to show there's excitement about this program and people want to be part of this program," Kuenzler said.

By the time the River Hawks play their first home game, on Oct. 26, UMass Lowell Athletic Director Dana Skinner said the goal is to sell more than 2,000 season tickets in all.

Meehan, for his part, said he commissioned the committee to generate interest throughout the Merrimack Valley for the hockey team, which plays in Hockey East, arguably the most competitive conference in college hockey.

"What I want to do is create a university community atmosphere where it's not just about hockey, it's about what the university does," he said.

The committee includes everyone from city and university officials to local business owners, corporate executives, university alumni, current River Hawks coach Blaise MacDonald and former coach Bill Riley.

Last year, the River Hawks averaged 2,800 fans per game in the 6,500-seat arena, Skinner said. Next season, the plan is to reduce the size of the bowl by about 2,500 seats by selling business logo seat-covers.

"It will bring everybody closer together, creating a much more vibrant environment, and for those games that draw a large crowd, we just roll back the seat covers," he said.

Riley, who coached from 1969 to 1991, noted that every home game also will feature a special event of some kind in addition to the action on the ice.

"It's going to be like Mardi Gras here," he said. "I've always wondered if it's the fans that incite the players or the players that incite the fans, and it's a little bit of both. This year, they'll be able to feed off each other."

Committee member Dean Jenkins, now a Lowell-based real estate developer, played right wing for the River Hawks from 1977 to 1981, a period in which the team won three NCAA Division II national championships. He set the committee's ticket sales record this week, bringing in commitments for 32 club-seat season tickets.

"The community in the Merrimack Valley needs to understand what a tremendous thing this can be," he said.

Billerica business owner Dan Durkin, a UMass Lowell student during that championship era, said he hopes "we can bring UMass Lowell hockey back to where it was when I was here, when it was the place to be on a Friday night."

"You could feel the electricity at Tully Forum" in Billerica, now called the Chelmsford Forum, Durkin said. "With the committee we have now, we could bring that back."

To purchase River Hawks tickets, visit http://goriverhawks.com or call (978) 934-2310.