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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Drowning on the ice during spring training.

When you think of Roanoke, you probably think of big hair, Wal-mart, and a big neon star. You probably don't think of hockey. But hockey has been around the Roanoke Valley since the Salem Rebels came to town in 1967. Since that time, the team has changed names, locations, owners, and affiliations many times. (via here)
1967-1972 Salem Rebels
1972-1977 Roanoke Valley Rebels.
1977-1981 The Dark Days of No Hockey in Roanoke
1981-1982 Salem Raiders
1982-1983 Virginia Raiders
1983-1990 Virginia Lancers
1990-1992 Roanoke Valley Rebels
1992-1993 Roanoke Valley Rampage
1993-2004 Roanoke Express
2004-2005 No Hockey
2005-present Roanoke Valley Vipers
During the 1987-1988 season, my dad lived next door to some of the players, and so they'd give us some tickets, and he'd buy them a case of Old Milwaukee's Best. At that time, they were still playing at the Lancerlot complex in Vinton. It was an old, smoky, dark place with a max capacity of 3000, and there would always be loads of fights on the ice. And so it was cool.

In 1993, the team was sold and a heavy snow storm damaged the Lancerlot, forcing the team to move to the Roanoke Civic Center, the Boston Gardens of Roanoke. The team adopted the name "Express" because of Roanoke's longstanding ties with the railroad, and the mascot was Loco the Junkyard Dog. Tickets at that time were only $5 for students. On weeknights the crowd would be about 2000, double that on the weekends, and we'd sit wherever the hell we wanted. We'd heckle the opposing team, mock other fans, and pick up girls from Cave Spring. A good time for all.

But then they started to actually win, and people took notice. Over the next few years, they jacked up the price a few dollars, but people would still show up because the product was good, and there really isn't a boatload of other things to do in town. One season, they were selling out 9000 tickets. For minor league hockey, that's a feat.

Then at some point a couple of years ago, some genius decided to end the sale of beer at the hockey games. No beer at hockey games? Are you insane? That was the death knell for the Roanoke Express franchise (aside from being in the red for years).

But then in 2005, hockey came back to town with the introduction of the Roanoke Valley Vipers. Vipers? Really? But it would seem that nobody much cares. Attendance is hovering around an average of 1500. Low even by minor league hockey standards, and no amount of promotion or begging seems to be making a difference.

And so I checked out the ticket prices, and lo and behold, found the reason why nobody is going to the games. Center Ice Sections are $15.50, Goal Sections $12.50, and $11.50 for students. Kids are $8.50. So there's your problem right there, Roanoke Valley Vipers management. It's freakin minor league hockey, you can't charge that much and expect people to regularly show up. Unless the beer is free. Which I'm sure it isn't.

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