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February 29, 2016 Shop Talk

DCU Center eagerly awaits hockey team

Sandy Dunn, general manager, DCU Center

Minor league hockey is once again returning to the DCU Center in Worcester, a year after the Worcester Sharks of the AHL moved to San Jose. Dunn, who runs the DCU Center for Pennsylvania property management firm SMG, believes the new team from the ECHL has a much better chance at success than the Sharks did; and the team and the arena will help bring new economic development to downtown.

What is the insiders’ story about how minor league hockey came back to the DCU Center?

I have to give a lot of credit to Tim Murray at the [Worcester Regional] Chamber of Commerce. This particular person – Cliff Rucker, the new owner – had sought us out early when the Sharks were leaving, and he was talking about bringing in a franchise here to Worcester. Without a Bruins affiliation, he wasn’t confident.

Tim Murray wasn’t going to let it go. He went back after him and brought him to Worcester. The two of them walked end-to-end of the city and talked about development that is taking place, cities on the move and what is going to be successful. Cliff got very enthused about the city and started the process to make the ECHL team happen. He had to go in front of the [ECHL] board of governors and basically sell them on Worcester. He had a lot of support.

Can the new team do better than the Sharks?

In the AHL, we were always the hole in the donut with the teams surrounding us. While that was terrific for developing hockey stars – because they could sleep here, eat here, do a skate here and then head to Manchester or Providence to do a game for the night – our market was very small, so the team was only able to draw from the immediate environs around the city of Worcester.

With the ECHL, the new owners has the ability to draw from the entire state of Massachusetts. He has a much bigger marketplace from being able to draw.

What else sets this team apart?

The other major difference is Worcester ownership. He has already committed to being in Worcester. He is from Massachusetts, so he understands the Worcester marketplace. He and the team president will be in the community constantly, as will the players.

We all took a page out of the Worcester Bravehearts and how successful they have been. While not necessarily a professional franchise in the Futures Collegiate [Baseball] League, they are successful because they are all about Worcester. This new team is going to be all about Worcester.

How is DCU Center’s deal different for Rucker?

In general, the terms of the deal were very similar to the terms of the previous deal. One thing we found in other buildings that SMG manages – as a private management company with 250 venues worldwide – the medium-sized markets with these minor league franchises is that speaking with one voice and having a really tight partnership between the building management firm and the hockey team has been very successful.

The one major change is the hockey team will take the lead role in selling all advertising for the buildings – all advertising, all sponsorships. That allows us to have one sales force in the community. Previously, if we were going to pitch Commerce Bank, we would have an advertising deal with the venue and then the hockey team would be there to get an advertising deal with the hockey team, so it was competitive. Now, by speaking with one voice, we are trying to raise the tide for both of us.

What will SMG’s role be with the hockey team?

In the beginning, it is introducing them to the community, making sure they are coming in, meeting all the players and understanding the market.

From there, we are operators. Our job is to make sure when the fans come to the building, they are getting a quality experience at the venue. Whether they are parking, arriving at the doors, buying tickets, any food they choose to have while they are here. As the operator, that is really our role and supporting whatever the team needs.

How does the DCU Center help the city?

We are a major piece of downtown. We take up two city blocks. We should be a major economic engine for bringing people downtown. For many people, we are the only thing they know about Worcester. They come in for an event like Garth Brooks, and they have never been to Worcester before. We want to make sure they are seeing a terrific city, friendly people, a clean environment and having a great time so when they go back to Danvers or Natick or wherever they may be from, they say, ‘Wow, Worcester really is a terrific city.’”



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