BLOOMINGTON — Central Hockey League commissioner Duane Lewis met with Bloomington Blaze owner Gary DelBuono over the weekend in the Twin Cities to help the new franchise “straighten the learning curve” as the Blaze try to get off the ground in time for a CHL season less than two months away.
With Jason Christie suddenly departing last week to be head coach in the ECHL, the Blaze has an additional task of hiring a new coach in addition to selling tickets and building relationships with potential sponsors before the Oct. 22 season opener.
Lewis said Monday the primary purpose of the visit was to give DelBuono training information the CHL provides to team executives during the offseason. DelBuono, who lives in Boston, was unable to attend gatherings of CHL executives earlier this summer.
Lewis also came to evaluate front-office staffing as well as ticket and sponsorship sales. He conceded that he’d like to see the Blaze be more established by now.
“We’d like to see more advertising and promotion of the hockey club and see it progress maybe a little bit quicker,” Lewis said.
“But I always think you want people ahead of where they are. It’s new and there’s a learning curve. We were just there to help straighten that curve.”
DelBuono said he would like to sell 600-750 season tickets, full or partial, as part of an overall goal to have an average paid attendance of 3,000 per home game. He did not say how many season tickets have been sold. Last season, the PrairieThunder averaged 2,603 in paid attendance, while 11 of 18 CHL teams averaged 3,200 or more fans per game last season.
Ticket sales have been slowed by the lack of a database of local fans and sponsors, DelBuono said.
“There are lots of people who haven’t been called from a season ticket-holder and sponsorship standpoint,” he said.
DelBuono added, “If we haven’t called you, it’s not that we don’t want you. We just don’t know who we’re missing yet. We have to start from scratch.”
DelBuono said more than 30 coaches have applied for the Blaze job. He hopes to have a decision made by the weekend.
“There are a lot of qualified coaches out there,” DelBuono said. “I’m very comfortable with the list we have.”
DelBuono, who is one of six absentee owners in the league, said he will approach the time before the season opener in 15-day intervals.
“We’re in pretty decent shape right now,” he said. “We just have to keep working hard.”