Marlies going to market with Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

Will the Maple Leafs' Midas touch of marketing be marred by the Marlies?

While some believe Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., is risking public backlash by launching its American Hockey League team with the NHL lockout still on (partly the reason the Edmonton Oilers shelved their Road Runners for this year), the club is encouraged by its early-season ticket drive.

"We know we're competing against an element of negativity right now," said Casey Vanden Heuvel, manager of team operations for the Marlies, who will play out of the 8,500-seat Ricoh Coliseum. "We're about halfway to our goal of 3,000 to 4,000 season tickets and it's only (the middle of) June. When our schedule comes out, we'll have a better idea of smaller game packages we can offer. Hopefully by early summer, we're all feeling our path back to pro hockey."

MLSEL was not put off by the Oilers' decision to suspend their AHL operation, nor the low attendance for the 'Runners when they played at Ricoh in 2003-04.

"When you compare the corporate and consumer bases of Toronto and Edmonton, not to mention the breadth of Leafs support, it's a strong dual market," Vanden Heuvel said. "The Road Runners didn't have that here."

The Leafs like the Philadelphia model, in which the Flyers successfully operate the AHL champion Phantoms from the old Spectrum, right across the parking lot from their NHL base at the Wachovia Center.

"The Flyers market the Phantoms on their broadcasts and everywhere else," Vanden Heuvel said.

"Our big asset is that by joining the Marlies you become part of the Leafs. We've already investigated ideas such as combining (media guides and yearbooks)."

Individual Marlies ticket prices range from $15 to $49, which is on the high side in the AHL and more expensive than the four junior teams in the GTA, but close to what the Road Runners had charged.

"We're looking at the family market, young 22-to-35 year-olds, the kind of audience the Toronto Rock (lacrosse team) have and the age group that meets at the bar to watch the Leafs," Vanden Heuvel said.

"We're trying to keep the price for a family the same as getting into Canada's Wonderland or a night at the movies."

Leafs general manager John Ferguson said he is completing his Marlies head coach search after talks with "a small group of highly qualified individuals."

"My sense is we have (completed the interview process), but if this group doesn't yield the appropriate person, we will continue," Ferguson said.


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