PENSACOLA, Fla. – As with all the teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League (and all of hockey for that matter), the Pensacola Ice Flyers are having to deal with uncertainty and fluid timelines while preparing for the 2020-21 season.
Despite being called the “off-season,” certain periods and aspects of the non-playing season can be hectic and full of deadlines. Many may not think of things like submitting artwork for season ticket books, designing and ordering jerseys/equipment as well as merchandise, strategizing theme nights, planning marketing appearances, recruiting players, or finding a venue and weekend for a free agent camp.
But when you factor in the cloud of uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to all aspects of life, a whole new level of stress is added.
The Ice Flyers, like most businesses out there, have made adjustments to the way they go about the business side of the organization, but the hockey operations side is still shrouded in uncertainty.
Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris told The Sin Bin that the team has already adjusted how they go about ticket sales and pursuing corporate partnerships. Timelines have changed as have the team’s strategies. Harris went on to say he and his staff have been encouraged with the response they have gotten from the fanbase as well as the corporate partners, including potential new partners.
When asked if he’d noticed some current partners, or potential partners who had been interested before, who have been reluctant to commit due to financial difficulties, Harris said, “Every business is adjusting to meet their needs and targets. Some businesses have been hurt much greater than others, and some businesses have seen increases in revenue. Some of our partners are needing to adjust both by decreasing and increasing contracts.”
A hockey team cannot play without equipment, and teams would be hard-pressed to turn a profit and survive without merchandise sales. Orders for some of those items can sometimes take months from starting the design process to delivery. Even with all of North America in various states of reopening, Harris said he did not anticipate any delays in ordering equipment, uniforms, or merchandise for the season.
Harris is optimistic about the prospect of having fans at games this season, even at a reduced capacity with social distancing but admits that there are possibilities where he and the organization do not see it viable to play.
“We’ll follow the guidance of our local and state governments as well as the Bay Center,” Harris said. “Playing in front of no fans is not an option for us or any other minor professional team and sport. If there is a severe reduction in capacity with very limited available seating, then it would be tough to go forward.
“However, our building has hosted high school and college graduations in the last couple months and just announced the highest level of PBR (Professional Bull Riding) coming at the end of September, all with patrons spread out, so that’s definitely a positive. But it’s not the only topic that we would have to take into consideration for when it makes sense to move forward.”
The SPHL is, at this time, still planning for a full 56-game schedule. Harris said that the league is considering several ideas of the schedule including schedules that are even more regionalized than usual. Presumably, in this scenario, this would cut down on the number of overnight stays meaning lower expenses as teams would have to pay for fewer nights in a hotel.
With the conversation still focused on the schedule, Harris stated that the shorter timeline meaning more weekday games, the Ice Flyers would have to slightly tweak their strategy in how they schedule their theme/promotional nights. During Harris’ tenure as majority ownership, every regular-season home game has had some sort of theme, so it is nothing new for the team to have weekday theme nights. Harris looked on the bright side and said, “The positive side is that we now have a couple more months to plan everything.”
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