Opening night of the Vancouver Giants inaugural season at the Langley Events Centre drew nearly 4,900 fans.
And while the team didn’t reach that level again during their remaining 35 home games at the LEC, the Western Hockey League club did top the 4,000-seat mark 17 other times over the course of the hockey season.
When all was said and done, the Giants drew a total of 138,521 fans, an average of 3,848 fans per home game in 2016/17.
The team drew 5,169 fans per home game in 2015/16 at the Pacific Coliseum, which has a greater capacity.
According to Gregg Drinnan of Taking Note, the Giants attendance numbers ranked them 13th out of the 22 WHL teams.
Average attendance league-wide was 4,474 with the Edmonton Oil Kings (9,461) and Calgary Hitmen (7,599) leading the way. Both those teams play in NHL rinks. The league’s lowest attendance belonged to the Kootenay Ice, who drew an average of 1,754 games.
Only five times did the Giants drop below the 3,000 mark — 2,870 was the lowest and that came on a Tuesday night — and four of those five games were weekday contests.
The other 13 games drew between 3,015 and 3,975 fans.
And while the building was filled to nearly 75 per cent capacity on average — with standing room, the LEC could accommodate 5,276 — paid attendance was actually higher than the 3,848, according to Dale Saip, Vancouver’s senior vice-president.
“Given all the things that had to happen, all the moving parts, we are very happy with our first year here,” Saip said, explaining the relatively late decision to move — an announcement came in May — put the team behind in getting ready for the season.
“We are very pleased with our model here and we are very pleased with the building and the people. We still have a few bugs to work out.”
One of those bugs will be fixing the ticketing system so that fans can share or transfer tickets electronically, and another change they would like is to make more tickets available to the general public. This would be done by reducing the number which go to corporate sponsors.
“We need to fill some of those empty seats,” Saip said.
Others areas of improvement they have targeted include expanding the menu for food services, enhancing the lounges and suites and seating services.
“There is a bunch of things going on here that I think will continue to make it a great place to bring a family to watch a hockey game,” Saip said.
One of the team’s most successful events was the recent Don Cherry Night in support of the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
The online auction of the special Don Cherry-themed jerseys the players wore — as well as a custom made jersey signed by Cherry and the jacket, shirt and tie he wore during the 2016 World Cup — fetched $12,102.
Saip said he received a card from Cherry and his daughter, stating how pleased they were with the event and that they wanted to continue to be involved moving forward.
This was just one of many promotional nights the team hosted.
From the Township of Langley’s perspective, once a few initial kinks were ironed out, the season appeared to go smoothly.
“At first, there were a few little growing pains, which were sorted out,” said Mayor Jack Froese, who shared season tickets with Coun. Charlie Fox.
Froese said the atmosphere was great and he said he knows of many out-of-towners who were coming to Langley to watch the Giants.
“I know people are coming to Langley to see the games, but I also know they are stopping by the restaurants,” he said.
Saip echoed Froese’s comments on the atmosphere inside the LEC, especially judging by his discussions with members of the opposing teams.
“When we are on our game, when our team was a little stronger at the midpoint of the season, it was a very tough place to play in,” Saip said.
“As our team matures, as some kids get a little older and some things progress, I think it is going to be one of the toughest barns in the whole league to play in.”