BRUCE BERLET REPORTS – THE BUSINESS OF WHALE HOCKEY

BY: Bruce Berlet

The Connecticut Whale is the focus of Whalers Sports and Entertainment’s business game, and the brainchild of former Hartford Whalers owner and managing general manager partner Howard Baldwin is making a major push to improve its position for its first full season and in the hockey world.

WSE has doubled its season ticket staff from three to six and added Dean Zappalorti and Jenna Miller-Wassell to oversee corporate sponsorships while working with former Whalers center Garry Swain.

And don’t be surprised if you hear Howard Baldwin, Jr., WSE’s president and chief operating officer, calling to ask for your support as WSE continues to try to increase interest in the local AHL team with an eye toward getting Hartford hockey back to the NHL.

“This is a huge year for us,” Baldwin, Jr. said as the WSE staff preps for the franchise’s 15th season home opener at the XL Center on Oct. 15 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “There’s a big emphasis on this year, and we had a big summer to plan, so we’re excited about what’s happening.

“And if we’re ever going to get on another map, a map of the big picture here, we need to continue to sell some more tickets and get everybody behind us. The New York Rangers put on a great product here, and we are determined to keep getting more fans to the games.”

The Whale’s attendance did improve about 50 percent after WSE re-branded the team the Whale on Nov. 27. And a huge impression was made by an AHL-record crowd of 21,673 that saw the Whale host the Providence Bruins at Rentschler Field in East Hartford in the Harvest-Properties.com Whale Bowl on Feb. 19.

The foundation of any team business is season tickets, and Baldwin said WSE has ramped up its already extensive efforts to make season ticket holders feel special.  That includes giving those who sit along the plexiglass a green-and-white Whale golf shirt. And before the Oct. 21 game against the Manchester Monarchs, there will be a season ticket holder forum in the XL Center directors’ suite. If there’s an overflow crowd, the event will be moved across the street to the Hilton Hotel.

“Our season ticket-holders are our biggest customers, and we never stop trying to make sure they know how much we value them,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said 85 percent of last year’s season ticket holders have renewed, and he and WSE’s increased staff are constantly calling those who haven’t renewed, as well as prospective new season ticket holders.

“Myself and others call all the non-renewals, about 30-40 a week,” Baldwin said. “My dad has called a few, but he works on the corporate and I work on the individuals.  We want it to be a personal appeal, so that the people we are calling know how very important they are to us.”

Season ticket sales have reached about 900, which is about twice what the former Hartford Wolf Pack had when WSE assumed business control of the franchise last September. Baldwin hopes WSE can reach 1,000 season ticket holders before the Whale face the Sound Tigers in mid-October.

The Whale will have improved radio coverage on WCCC-FM, and there will be televised games for the first time since the 2006-07 season in a package to be announced soon.

The WSE personnel will be out in force to try to reach their ticket-sales goal at the “Whale Blue & Green Block Party” season Face-off event Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at Blue Back Square in West Hartford. It will resemble a pep rally, with introductions of the Whale players and coaching staff, who will be signing autographs.

“We’re pretty pumped up about that,” Baldwin said.  “It will be a great way to welcome the players and coaches back, and to get excited about the start of the season.”

The Face-off Fan Experience will feature live music by Hartford hockey legendary national anthem singer Tony Harrington & Touch, food specials available from local restaurants, Whale merchandise showcasing the latest apparel, an outdoor movie, “Pucky” joined by other mascot friends in the Autograph Zone, prizes and the introduction of the new CT Whale Slap Shot Cage sponsored by XFINITY, where fans can test their puck-shooting skills. Fans also can enter to win tickets to the home opener Oct. 15 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers or a Connecticut Whale replica jersey.

Admission is free and the event will be in the area of Blue Back Square known as “The Square” on Isham Rd. next to Barnes & Noble.

Individual tickets are on sale at the Public Power ticket office at the XL Center. The Whale will play 90 percent of their 38 games at the XL Center on weekends and during vacation and holiday breaks. Tickets, starting at $14 for adults and $12 for youth, are available at the box office Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. or online at www.ctwhale.com and through TicketMaster charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. For information on season seats and mini-plans, call 860-728-3366 or visit www.ctwhale.com.

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