MUSKEGON – The big crowds are showing up for Muskegon Lumberjacks home games earlier than usual this season.
Traditionally the Jacks start filling up Trinity Health Arena (formerly L.C. Walker and Mercy Health Arena) in January and February, after the high school football season is over and the busy holiday season has passed.
Lately, however, the building has been unusually packed, with an exciting midseason-like atmosphere.
The crowds for the first three home games of the season were pretty normal for that time of year – 1,736 for the home opener on Sept. 30 against Chicago, 1,208 on Oct. 8 against Cedar Rapids and 1,522 for a rematch the next night, and 1,632 for the Oct. 22 game against Dubuque.
Since then, however, attendance has increased dramatically, and the arena has become a pretty packed and fun place to be on the weekends.
The Jacks drew 2,278 fans for their Nov. 5 game against Youngstown, 2,134 on Nov. 11 against Green Bay, and 2,356 the next night when the two teams played again.
Trinity Health Arena seats roughly 3,000 people, so the Jacks are inching closer to capacity.
The really impressive part is that the Nov. 11 game was the Lumberjacks’ annual Military Night, which always gets a very nice crowd, but the game the following night drew even more fans.
The early uptick in ticket sales is very exciting for Andrea Rose, the Lumberjacks’ president of business operations, and her staff.
“Our last three crowds have been the best that we’ve had in November in this ownership’s history, dating back to 2013,” Rose said.
The Jacks are hoping to keep the fun going with a two more big crowds this weekend when they host the Madison Capitols on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. Friday is “Flaunt your Flannel Night” and Saturday’s feature will be “Queen for a Night.”
Rose says a number of factors are bringing more fans out to games a little earlier this year.
She noted that the three big recent crowds came out on theme nights, and said her staff has been getting very adept at planning, promoting and executing the special events.
Military Night was a great example. The Lumberjacks opened the evening with the unfurling of a giant American flag over the ice, with the help of a few dozen volunteers, followed by a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, sung by Zaneta Adams, director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.
The pregame ceremony ended on a great note when the crowd gave a long, loud and heartfelt ovation to 95-year-old Bill Paulson, a retired Muskegon High School teacher and World War II era veteran who was chosen to drop the ceremonial first puck.
“I think that was the best thing we’ve ever done,” Rose said about Military Night.
The Nov. 5 game was Top Gun Night, and the Nov. 12 game was Youth Hockey Night.
“We celebrated youth hockey in our community, and we had 60 kids out on the ice (between periods) for the Mites on Ice games,” Rose said. “The energy was great, even though the game didn’t end up the way we wanted it to.”
Rose also said the recent opening of Carlisle’s, the second restaurant/bar in the arena (along with Rad Dads Taco and Tequila Bar), has made the hockey games more of a social event, with more vendor options for fans.
“They have been a fantastic addition,” Rose said about Carlisle’s. “Having two restaurants inside the arena definitely elevates the social experience. Having the ability to order something from our concessions or getting a specialty cocktail is something that most of us who are 21 and over can appreciate.”
Several popular new vendor items are also available at Jacks games this year and have been big hits, Rose said.
Fans have been purchasing a lot of slices of Jets Pizza at the concession stands, and the small Hey Sugar Cotton Candy stand on the concourse has been extremely popular.
“The really big seller has been the glow-in-the-dark cotton candy,” Rose said. “That’s been a really big hit with the kids.”
This season everything seems to be coming together for the Lumberjacks, according to Rose. The team is very talented with its best games still ahead, the promotions are well-planned and fun, and the number of options for fans, in terms of food, drink and entertainment, has never been better, she said.
“Our mission is to be the best junior hockey operation in the world, on and off the ice, and I think our fans are starting to really notice our commitment for providing a great entertainment value,” Rose said. “I think the fans see we are putting on a show and they have a great time. They’re seeing that we truly have something for everyone.