Local hockey team can’t draw students

Team officials look to address disconnect between Kingston Frontenacs and Queen’s community

The Kingston Frontenacs are planning to make a bigger advertising push to attract Queen’s students next season.
The Kingston Frontenacs are planning to make a bigger advertising push to attract Queen’s students next season.
Forward Cody Alcock (left) and the Kingston Frontenacs are last place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
Forward Cody Alcock (left) and the Kingston Frontenacs are last place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.

On Jan. 27, over 100 loud and drunken Queen’s Sports Industry Conference delegates filled up a corner of the K-Rock Centre, cheering on the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs and taunting the visiting Oshawa Generals.

By the second period, students had spread out across the crowd to start a wave around the stadium.

“Our season ticket holders loved it,” Jeff Stilwell, Frontenacs director of marketing and communications, said. “Queen’s students made so much noise and made it so much fun.”

But it was a rare occurrence. On most nights, only 15 to 20 Queen’s students show up to games.

“We’ve done a number of things to market ourselves to Queen’s students, but it hasn’t clicked,” Stilwell said. “We do get bigger groups [like the conference delegates], but we don’t have students who just come to watch games.”

The Frontenacs will close out the OHL regular season on Sunday, having already clinched last place in the Eastern Conference. In 32 home games so far, they’ve averaged 2,546 fans — but Stilwell said the organization wants higher turnouts, and more Queen’s students would be one way to do it.

“This fall, we’re going to try some new things,” he said. “We have to put together a more dynamic way of attracting fans.”

For the past few years, Frontenacs representatives have shown up at the Frosh Week sidewalk sale and have advertised in campus publications. But Stilwell said the club is planning to be more aggressive in pursuing students next year.

“Among other things, we’re looking at creating a Queen’s ambassador, somebody right on campus for ticket sales,” he said.

But Stilwell admits that Frontenacs games are still pricey for university students. A student ticket costs $17 — after a few beers and some food, a night at the K-Rock Centre costs almost $50.

“The hardest part is that a case of beer is about the same price as a Frontenacs [game],” Stilwell said.

Another problem is that most students don’t have any serious ties to Kingston hockey, because students often come to town with allegiances to other teams and other cities.

“If you’re from Vancouver, you’ve never heard of the Frontenacs,” Stilwell said. “Maybe you’ve heard of them if the Canucks drafted a player.”

Nick Alton, ArtSci ’11, said he’s been to four Frontenacs games since he came to Queen’s, but mostly to see NHL prospects.

“In my second year, I went to see the Windsor Spitfires play when they had [current NHLer] Taylor Hall,” he said. “The next season I went to see [current NHLers] John Tavares and Nazem Kadri.”

Alton was part of the Sports Industry Conference delegation in January 2011 — he said the crowd had a different vibe when he went to games with his friends.

“It’s a pretty strong local crowd, but it’s a lot different,” Alton said. “[The conference] brought a lot of energy to the building … it was more upbeat and enthusiastic.”

As a competitive youth hockey player and fan of the pro game, Alton said OHL games offer high-quality hockey, but he rarely thinks about going to Frontenac games.

“The Frontenacs are just not really on the radar [for Queen’s students],” he said. “It’s good quality, but for me there’s no real connection to the product.”

The Frontenacs have missed the playoffs for three of the past five seasons. Alton said those results aren’t good enough to attract fans.

“It would help if they had a good young player or a hot team … they need to find something to market,” he said. “If I was coming into first year and they could sell me on that, maybe they could build something.”

Queen’s Athletics sports information intern Chris Lund worked part-time for the Frontenacs this season, writing press releases and game reports. He said the team’s recent poor results have even hurt local attendance. The Frontenacs are 19-40-7 so far this season.

“People are upset that this team, which should be a beacon for what’s really been a good hockey town, isn’t competitive,” he said. “It’s been a real struggle [to attract fans], but it’s a reflection of the state the team’s in right now.”

Despite poor attendance from Queen’s students, Lund thinks the Frontenacs can still find a niche on campus.

“Queen’s students are willing to go out and see live sporting events … the numbers at the Carr-Harris Cup reflect that,” Lund said, also pointing to high attendance figures when Gaels teams make long playoff runs.

“As far as high-profile sports in this city, Frontenacs hockey is as close as you get,” he said. “I do think a big name would be huge … if teams have a couple good players, they can still get people out to the rink.”

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