The return of pro hockey to central Florida in the form of the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears was a success, but sustainability means more growth and perhaps a run in the playoffs.
Hockey in Florida has always been a crapshoot: the original Solar Bears did well before the IHL collapsed, and the Seals never did well playing out in Kissimmee. But the combination of an affordable product in the ECHL and a sparkling venue led to success for the Solar Bears last season, with the team selling 6,700 or so tickets per game. That number, as well as actual turnstile counts, needs to go up for the Solar Bears to turn a profit, something that didn’t happen last season. From the Orlando Sentinel:
In their first year, the Solar Bears played 36 home games, averaging 6,700 fans per game. That was the third-highest total in the ECHL (turnstile counts by the city were lower: about 4,755 per game). Siegel said Orlando was also one of top franchises for merchandise sales — selling, among other things, replica jerseys at $129 a pop.
The team, which finished 28-44, tends to draw three types of fans: Northern transplants who grew up with hockey, old Solar Bear diehards glad to see their team resurrected and neophytes looking to dip a toe in the frozen water….
[Solar Bears CEO Jason] Siegel offered little in the way of financial details, but he acknowledged that the team didn’t turn a profit in its first year. He said that could change this season, but it would likely require the extra home games of a playoff run. Short of that, he said, the organization needs to keep looking for converts to grow the fan base.
Of course, the very act of sticking around and showing stability will prove something to Orlando Solar Bears fans: the team is indeed in Amway Center to stay. Amway Center is one of the best venues on the planet and a stunning place for hockey.