Hockey faces capacity crunch

By Mills Armbruster

[email protected]

Fans who attended the first two men’s ice hockey games against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, most likely noticed how crowded the Lexington Ice Center was on both the Friday and Saturday nights.

As beneficial to the Cats as the turnout was, it will be an unlikely scene around the rink in the future, as the Lexington fire marshals are now going to strictly enforce the capacity limits inside the Ice Center. Fire marshals called investigators in to assess the amount of people in the building before the puck hit the ice.

The legal limit for spectators in the Ice Center is set at 502 people. With nearly 700 people attending the season opener, many UK hockey officials are worried about the fan base suffering, including UK hockey general manager Ian Ward who has managed the team for 18 years.

“I have no complaint with this, as it is a safety precaution. However, for now it will result in less people getting into our games,” Ward said. “During the season opener, we were told to close the door to the rink before everyone could be admitted. There were nearly 100 fans left outside chanting ‘let us in.’ But we couldn’t.”

The restrictions could incur a more severe penalty for the occupancy restrictions than ruining the evenings of a few spectators. Fewer customers mean fewer dollars.

“It will place a bearing on the team,” Ward said. “We just have to see what is going to happen. If we lose 100 people per game, that’s a $500 loss in profit.”

Lowering the capacity to 500 occupants, when roughly 600 to 700 fans arrive to the games on average, could take a toll on the budget of the team. As a club sport, UK hockey spends over $90,000 each year on expenses for the team.

It costs the team $1,430 on a normal week (when there is a home game the following weekend), not including the salaries of the officials, timers, video personnel, security and numerous other employees. To compensate for the loss of revenue, the team could raise the price of entry to each game.

“Ticket prices haven’t been raised in 15 years,” Ward said. “But, if we cannot get the same amount of income from the smaller amount of fans we will have to raise the ticket prices eventually.”

The over-crowding of the rink is a safety concern. It is a requirement to enforce these laws, and given the Ice Center’s residential location, it is crucial for them to abide by them.

“The fire department showed up to that game and saw it first hand,” Lexington Ice Center manager Dennis Hyde said. “There were people standing in all the isles and walkways. In an emergency, that could cause an issue.”

Only 502 guests will be allowed into the Lexington Ice Center for now. Management is planning to set up an extra set of bleachers at the far end of the rink in hopes of raising the capacity level and getting more fans into the games.

“The deal is that we get a number based on the amount of seating available,” Hyde said. “We base our numbers by measuring our benches and giving 18 inches to each individual. For every 18 inches, that’s one person allowed in. By putting in some new bleachers will help to raise the capacity limit.”