Circumstances cause home headaches for Thunder hockey

04/28/2013 7:48 AM

04/28/2013 8:13 AM

They’re supposed to be enemies this week, when they meet in the best-of-seven Central Hockey League finals, but Allen has been friendly to the Thunder recently. Or at least to Wichita’s previously maddening playoffs schedule.

A prior booking at the Allen Events Center prevented the series from beginning this weekend, keeping the Americans from prime Friday and Saturday dates that bring in bigger crowds.

So Wichita gets the weekend dates with Games 3 and 4 scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Intrust Bank Arena. The Americans also did the Thunder a favor by beating Missouri in the semifinals, creating a nine-day break for Wichita between games after it swept Fort Worth in the semifinals.

While such a long layoff isn’t ideal, it gave the Thunder extra time to sell tickets; if Missouri had won, the finals would have begun in Wichita this weekend, giving the front-office staff far less time to prepare and promote.

"We literally would have had 2 1/2 days to sell tickets," Thunder general manger Joel Lomurno said. "Obviously it’s more time to prepare and put together a good advertising plan and get the word out of the community and get the billboards made, etc. We wouldn’t have had time to do that."

The Thunder is catching a scheduling break after two rounds that offered little in the way of attracting more casual fans.

Wichita’s first two games coincided with Wichita State NCAA Tournament basketball games. The staff was just as preoccupied with figuring out how to accommodate fans who wanted to watch those games on television and attend Thunder games as it was with promoting the playoffs.

It didn’t get much better after basketball, as the Thunder played a pair of midweek games in the semifinals against Fort Worth, drawing fewer than 2,800 fans in both.

The postseason is supposed to be a time for additional revenue, but with unfavorable home dates and two home games per series because of Wichita sweeps, the Thunder is spending about as much as it is earning. CHL teams are at the mercy of the arenas they play in and don’t have scheduling priority.

"Financially they can be tough during the week when you only have two days," Thunder co-owner Rodney Steven said. "There’s a lot of costs involved with putting a game on, obviously. You have lots of staffing productions, lots of staffing costs. If you have a Monday-Tuesday game and you don’t find out about it until Sunday, financially it won’t normally be a good thing."

The extra time between series is beneficial for the staff charged with promoting the finals, but it creates a challenge to get the word out about a team that hasn’t spent much time at home lately.

The Thunder’s next home game, Saturday’s Game 3, will be its fifth in nearly six weeks. Quick series and long layoffs have kept the Thunder from gaining the momentum via word of mouth that deep playoff runs usually provide.

"I think that if we had been playing regularly at home, hockey probably would be fresher in everyone’s mind," Lomurno said. "...Obviously, we’ve got to get back fired up again. I know everyone is well aware of how we’re doing and how good we’ve been and the fact that we swept the first two series.”

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