The Edge are a Success, but are They Here to Stay?
When it was announced that in lieu of a minor league hockey team, Mile One Centre would be hosting a basketball team from a league few people were familiar with, there was some rightful skepticism. Could a basketball team survive in a city where countless hockey teams had fled?
Turns out the answer so far is a forceful fuck yeah. The St. John’s Edge have far outstripped Mayor Dennis O’Keefe’s hope of putting 1500 people in the seats every night. Their average attendance of more than 3200 is well above the National Basketball League (NBL) average, and they sit second in overall attendance behind only last year’s champion London Lightning.
Irwin Simon, part of the ownership group, told me back in October, “we are excited about coming to Newfoundland, we will play a major role in the community,” which sounded ambitious at the time. So far, it’s looking good; Newfoundlanders have found a place to spend a night out without violating their wallets while enjoying a quality product. The Edge have been putting on strong performances all year and have already locked up a spot in the playoffs.
I spoke with Trevor Murphy, assistant GM for the Edge and the former director of hockey operations for the Ice Caps, about how the team plans to continue this success. He told me that the plan is pretty simple – keep focusing on what has worked, which includes keeping ticket prices down.
He said the fan support from day one has been outstanding, and the organization is thrilled with how they’ve been embraced. He tells me that the key has been providing a great fan experience, coupled with an exciting and fast paced product.
Murphy also commented on the growing basketball community that exists in St. John’s. “There’s a lot of basketball people who come out every night,” which shouldn’t be surprising. The NBA is as popular as it’s ever been, and the ripple effects have resulted in a growing number of fans across the country.
The question that won’t be answered until next year remains, is this thing a novelty? It’s fair to ask, as one year of great ticket sales doesn’t guarantee a second. Several teams in the NBL’s past have failed for financial reasons, given how thin the margins are for a league like this. It is imperative that the Edge not have a down year, even with their significant financial backing.
The surest way to keep the asses in the seats is to keep putting a great product on the floor. As much as it is important to provide a fun and comfortable fan experience – at a reasonable price point – it is vital that fans have a worthwhile team to watch. It does not take much of a leap in logic to figure out that no one wants to watch bad players lose at basketball. The one advantage the various AHL franchises had was the chance to watch future big leaguers come through town from time to time, a luxury the NBL does not share. As long as the Edge keep winning, I can’t imagine attendance will fall significantly.