A rink of one’s own – roller hockey rinks

Heather McGinty

“Park and recreation departments across the country are seeing the demand for in-line hockey rinks increase year after year,” said Chris Guertin, product manager for Border Patrol’s portable rink systems division. This does not come as a surprise, considering the fact that the number of in-line hockey participants has increased almost 125 percent in the past three years, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Gary DelVecchio, coordinator of membership development for USA Hockey In-line, states, “Our youth membership has almost quadrupled in the past two-and-a-half years. The continued growth of in-line hockey participation depends on the number of in-line hockey leagues and facilities. The lack of facilities is one of the largest obstacle that the sport faces.”

As witness to the tremendous growth of this popular sport, park and recreation departments and YMCAs have found creative ways to provide safe and controlled environments for kids to play in-line hockey. Lowell Lucas, director of Streator Family YMCA in Streator, Illnois, sets up a portable rink system in the facility’s parking lot. “We use 30 panels in each corner for floor hockey, which allows us to set up folding chairs in the corners for parents.” When providing a designated place for kids to play in-line hockey, the programs have flourished. Mark Rocossa of Santa Rosa Boys & Girls Club said that their league began with 20 players and increased to 100 — in just one year’s time.

It has not taken long for many park and recreation directors to realize that the demand for in-line hockey rinks and leagues was greater than they had expected. Many in-line hockey programs that started as loosely organized games in parking lots have evolved into highly structured competitive leagues held in professional-style facilities. For example, the Alpharetta (GA) Parks and Recreation Department started its program with a portable rink system in 1995 and eventually progressed to a permanent rink system in 1997. According to the department’s director, Mike Perry, “Alpharetta is committed to offering a high-quality program. The portable system is great for developing programs and demonstrations, but as a program grows and the level of play increases, you need a more permanent system.” Although park and recreation departments — like the one in Alpharetta — have found great success with their in-line hockey programs, the fact remains that there are more than 3.4 million in-line hockey players in the United States looking for an in-line hockey facility in their community. For this reason, you might want to encourage your community to take a closer look at in-line hockey facility development.

Lacking Expertise

Still not convinced that in-line hockey facilities and programs would succeed in your community? You are definitely not alone. Whether talking to in-line hockey players, skate retailers, or industry specialists, a lack of facilities is the most cited bottleneck for the sport’s growth. Many recreation directors are hesitant to invest in building facilities and offer programs that don’t have a proven history in their community. They perceive risk with this new sport and often don’t have the expertise to efficiently proper facilities and programs.

But these challenges are easily overcome when recreation directors are willing to take innovative approaches towards facility and program development. Premier Sports Facilities Group, a turnkey construction and consulting group that focuses on in-line hockey facilities, views public-private ventures, multi-sport facilities, and sponsorship funding as ways to reduce the risk and investment for a facility and increase the likelihood of successful program development.

In-line hockey facility development is a lesson in supply and demand. In most communities, there are simply too many players demanding playing time on the limited or non-existent supply of proper in-line hockey facilities. Entrepreneurs and developers recognize this as a business opportunity, but often don’t have the information, resources, or community support to construct and manage facilities on their own. But, increasingly, public-private ventures in facility development are resulting in successful businesses and affordable, high-quality programs for communities.

These public-private ventures can take many forms, depending on the needs and resources of both public and private partners. The following is a typical situation:

A recreation director in a community of 25,000 people recognizes the growth of in-line hockey. He sees children in culs-desac playing every night on his drive home, and tennis players are complaining about the pick-up games being played on their courts. However, this sport is completely foreign to him. Proposals have came up in city council meetings to address the lack of proper and safe facilities for roller hockey, but no one in the recreation department knows a great deal about the sport. Nobody is willing or able to champion an effort to raise the money or develop the programs, even though his or her community might use a rink more than any existing park facilities. Therefore, this opportunity to serve the community is abandoned.

However, some communities recognize the attractiveness of in-line hockey to the business community and view public-private development as the best course of action. They can draft a request for proposal (RFP) and circulate it among qualified developers. Details of the public-private venture proposal might include a 10-year fixed, low-rate lease of public land for the use of an in-line hockey facility. Requirements for free-of-charge use and open skating might be stipulated, along with a revenue-sharing plan to reimburse the community for the use of the land.

In most instances, private enterprise would jump at this opportunity to work with the community. Land-acquisition costs and permit and zoning issues would decrease, increasing the feasibility of a successful business. Non-public funds would be used to construct and manage the facility, and, ultimately, the recreation department, the business developer, and the citizens of the community would all win.

Public-private ventures are not always the answer. Some recreation departments do have the in-house expertise and desire to run successful in-line hockey programs. However, they might not be able to justify investing $150,000 on an outdoor rink or as much as $1 million on an indoor facility when the sport is not yet proven in their community. This challenge can be addressed through diversification or by simply not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Make it Multi-Sport

Multi-sport facilities present the opportunity to spread the risk and costs of in-line hockey over a number of different uses. The easiest way to add a second sport to an in-line hockey rink is to overhang basketball hoops on the sides of the rink. Two full-size basketball courts can run the width of a regulation in-line hockey rink with neither sport affecting the play of the other. All of a sudden, costs for lighting, the foundation, bleachers, and other shared fixtures are cut in half for each sport. Additionally, overall usage on the facility would increase dramatically. Instead of one sport supporting seven days of use, it now must account for just three and one-half. If sports like like volleyball, soccer, or lacrosse are added, the attractiveness of such a facility increases even more. This spreading of costs, risk, and requirements over multiple activities may be the best strategy for facility development in your community.

Even when considering the use of an in-line hockey rink for multiple sports, the initial cash requirement is substantial. Capitalizing on the commercial benefits that a rink in your community can offer may be the best way to found your project. Innovative communities recognize that in-line hockey has effects on local business. Players must purchase skates and protective equipment, parents and players must pay registration fees, and local apparel companies will provide jerseys. Players and parents also represent a target market for a variety of business such as restaurants, sporting-goods stores, and soft-drink distributors. If marketed effectively, substantial funds can be raised prior to construction to reduce the use of public money.

Sponsorship programs can — and should — be developed before a rink is built. In-line hockey rinks offer dasher board advertising that has become very familiar in television broadcasts of National Hockey League games. More than 60 ad spaces exist on a rink that, when multiplied by $500 to $1,000 per space, can generate $30,000 to $50,000 each year. These numbers are aggressive; but they represent substantial funds that can be generated prior to breaking ground on your facility. Naming rights for the facility (so common in today’s professional sports arenas), banner signage, and scoreboard advertising are also means of generating the fund required to build an in-line hockey facility in your community.

If an in-line hockey rink seems like an improbable propositions in your community, you might want to think again. Public-private ventures, multi-sport facilities, and fundraising through sponsorships and advertising are ways to bring an otherwise difficult project to fruition. And, if an in-line hockey facility is already in the works in your community, these strategies might make your project even more successful.

COPYRIGHT 1998 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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