The new Trail Smoke Eaters’ awning in front of the Trail Memorial Centre and a generous offer on season tickets are positive signs that the BCHL organization is making progress off the ice as well as on it.
Smoke Eater owners Rich and Annie Murphy are investing a lot of time and money in the venerable Silver City building, with Phase 1 of the team’s renovation completed and Phase 2 in the works.
“Things are going well, but we have a lot of work ahead us,” Murphy told the Times from his home in Minnesota on Tuesday. “It helps when the team is playing really well, and the coaching staff is doing their job, we’re getting our people in place and they’re getting situated, and we’re working diligently on our plans for next year.”
On Wednesday, Smoke Eater operations staff moved into the newly renovated Smoke Eater offices that connect to the exterior via the former Trail Museum entrance and directly to the interior through the west walkway of the Cominco Arena, giving easy access to fans and passers by. Smoke Eaters Director of Hockey Operations, Craig Clare, Operations Manager, Steve Robinson, and Sales and Event Manager Allison McCarthy have set up their offices in the space, which will also act as a merchandising shop so fans can pick up Smoke Eater paraphernalia and tickets any time during business hours.
“It just provides a better environment for myself and the staff to come in and work every day, and feel we are more efficient in the work that we are doing,” said Clare. “It provides a face for our team, for fans and people in the area to come in and purchase tickets and merchandise, and have an office functioning from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
Phase 2, already underway, will see the construction of a players’ lounge and weight room that will bring the Smoke Eaters’ facility in line with other competitive BCHL teams, and make Trail a more attractive option for future recruits.
In addition, for a limited time, fans can purchase season tickets for $199, almost half of last season’s pricing, or a family flex package for $299. The season’s pass will cut the current cost of a home game in half for season-ticket holders, and allow a family of two adults and all their kids to 15 games at an average of about $10 per adult and all the children free.
“We really want the City of Trail and surrounding areas to be able to come and experience the games, so we’re offering a very attractive ticket price,” said Murphy. “The price is good as long as we have a lot of people sign up for it. We’re taking a risk, so we’re hoping that the community will stand behind us.”
The Smoke Eater staff has worked diligently to create an atmosphere that is fun and entertaining, and with the Smoke Eaters hockey team contributing like they did on Saturday in a win over Penticton, the excitement and thrills on the ice and in the stands is well worth the price of admission.
“We have great volunteer support, but we really, really need the support of the city and the surrounding community to stay afloat.”
When Murphy took ownership of the team on Nov. 1, he launched a five-phase plan that would bring structural improvements to the Trail Memorial Centre to benefit the Smoke Eaters and the city. The players’ lounge and weight room is expected to be completed by March, and Phase 3-5 started in April.
“Phase 3, 4 and 5, is really just one phase … And that is the new dressing room, shower room, bathrooms, coaches offices, skate sharpening room and new trainer’s room. It’s going to be totally different, if you went down there, you wouldn’t recognize it.”
The bill for the massive Memorial Centre makeover is being footed by Murphy and he expects the investment, over and above his initial $600,000 purchase of the Smoke Eaters, to be substantial, and a lasting legacy for the City of Trail.
“The investment that he’s given to not only this team, but the community is something Trail will have for a long time,” said Clare. “Just having his experience in business and being able to bounce ideas off him, and vice versa, and working together with Steve, Allison, and myself has just been a lot of fun, and we’re learning at the same time.”
A highlight of the renovations will be the addition of a giant media screen on the south wall of the Cominco Arena next season to provide replays, play-by-play, announcements, and advertisements for sponsors.
“It’s a great deal for them (the City of Trail),” said Murphy. “But they’ve been very supportive and we worked out an arrangement on the media screen and they are helping out with that.”
But Murphy’s and the Smoke Eater staffs’ mandate is clear, to get fans in the seats and sponsors on board. The Smoke Eaters have struggled in the past, and with an annual operating budget of over $700,000, the team can’t succeed without the support from the community. Murphy has more than held up his end of the bargain, and with the Underwear Band improving every game, entertaining intermissions, generous pricing, and the Smoke Eaters working towards a winning season and playoff berth – the plan seems to be coming together.
“Everyone can do the math, you need ticket sales and sponsorships, and alternative ways to make revenues,” added Murphy. “If we can average 1,500 (fans) to a game, this team will have an easy road, if it’s 900, it’s not easy … But we need to make it a fun evening for the family to come out. It’s not all about hockey.”
Purchase a season or family pass by May 14 and be entered to win one of three prizes including a trip to St. Eugene Resort and Casino.