I have to shout out “Happy Birthday” to Excellent Ice in Kirkland, QC. Excellent Ice turns 18 today. From what General Manager Brent Sabino tells me, the niche-y, privately-owned 3-on-3 facility isn’t just getting older, it’s definitely getting better. Sabino says their longevity and revenue growth comes from thinking differently and not being afraid to try new things –something you might expect from a triple pad that’s stood out from the crowd from its very beginning.
Three-on-three hockey is a different brand of hockey, (and Sabino’s grin is wide when he says the NHL went to 3-on-3 in overtime for a reason!) It has speed, puck touches as well as goalie and cardio workouts impossible to duplicate in a regular hockey setting. Located in a Montreal suburb, Excellent Ice has over 1.8 million people to draw from, so the potential revenue base is definitely there for anyone wanting a different kind of hockey. The trick is converting them into sales, and that’s something Sabino and his team seem to excel at.
I’ve just sent Brent Sabino an email for a follow-up story I want to write on DEK hockey — which some of you might know better as ‘shinny’ or ‘ball hockey’. I’d written a story for The Hockey Mom about their purpose-built outdoor DEK hockey rink back in May, just as it was about to open. Sabino said he’d be willing to share some numbers with me after its first season, and I figured now might be a good time to ask him about it.
And, believe me, I’ll write about how Excellent Ice is growing DEK hockey in another feature, but not today. Today I have other things to write about, successes that are eye-poppingly interesting for arenas looking for ways to increase their revenue — or are willing to explore how they think about their revenue streams. And, as cliché as it may sound, the successes that Excellent Ice is having come from thinking outside the box.
Have you ever considered running single day tournaments? Probably not. But single day tournaments are now Excellent Ice’s go-to standards. Here’s why.
Boxing Day is usually a day with not a lot going on but college football games and shopping. Since it’s a day a bit on its own, Sabino decided to see what would happen if they held a single-day tournament for men. The games would need to be shortened to 30-minutes each to make a round-robin work, and as soon as they announced the tournament, the entries began flooding in.
That changed the way Excellent Ice handled tournaments. That single-day tournament changing Boxing Day from a historical “cool” revenue day into a “hot” one. And there were other effects, too. Sabino found the players stayed longer and spent more money than they did at more traditional tournaments that spanned over two or three days. There were benefits for the players too — not needing to spend so much money to enter a tournament; not needing multiple nights at a hotel if coming from out of town.
And that’s how Excellent Ice embraced the single-day tournament format.
In Quebec, days where teachers attend conferences are called “Pedagogical Days” (PED Days for short) and with tens of thousands of children having nothing to do on those days, why not offer hockey camps? That’s something else on Excellent Ice’s calendar. By offering a single day hockey camp which offers ice time, instruction and a meal prepared in the facility’s full kitchen, it’s a welcomed day-care alternative for frazzled parents.
The PED Day programs are, you guessed it, another Excellent Ice success.
Spring is the Thing
For many arena managers, spring hockey is secondary to the main hockey season, but for Excellent Ice, Spring is the Thing. Because 3-on-3 hockey requires just 10 players for a team — just one goalie — it’s much easier to field more teams than traditional hockey teams of 15 players or more. Excellent Ice already had 92 teams in its Youth Pond Hockey League, but a push for Spring 3-on-3 has raised that number to an incredible 158 teams.
“We did some extra advertising at the beginning of the year to seed the idea of DEK hockey coming to Excellent Ice. What we found is the advertising and press we got raised the awareness of our 3-on-3 leagues, and those exploded this year,” Sabino says.
Embracing the Single Letter Players
September is usually a quiet month with the beginning of the hockey season being kicked off in October. So why not offer pre-season camps specifically for single letter players? There are lots of programs out there for the elite players, but when it comes to the single letter players, there are many participants but very few programs.
Excellent Ice’s 3-week camp for single letter players in September is another product offering that has taken off like wildfire. It fills a void in the market and keeps kids off the couch and in shape for when the phone finally rings, calling them for tryouts.
Solid Teaching Program
At the heart of all this is a solid teaching program run by Sean Tilley and Ryan Kelly. Their programs are always aimed at specific age groups and focus on developing specific skills, which the players are graded on with a report card. Tilley has been instructing at Excellent Ice for over 10 years, following the players as they develop.
With Montreal being a popular destination for post-professional hockey players, many of them often take a stab at creating programs of their own. Sabino knows there is a lot of competition from these former stars, but Excellent Ice continues with its instructional programs, expanding them year after year.
“They may have the name, but we have the reputation,” Sabino says. “Through thick and thin, we’re still here.”
Sabino’s advice to other arena managers is to not be complacent.
“You always need to keep questioning what you’re doing, trying new things and seeing if they’ll work,” he says. “With the outdoor DEK hockey, we worried it might erode our indoor ice sales. Turns out, it just made them better.”
And that’s thinking outside the box. Congratulations, Excellent Ice. And happy birthday!
Do you like this post? You might also like my stories on The Hockey Mom.
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