Carolina Hurricanes

How Hurricanes’ new owner Tom Dundon is changing the team’s way of thinking

Jim Meade and Chris Boli were planted in their seats in section 335, Row E of PNC Arena on Tuesday and weren’t about to budge.

“Best seats in the house,” Meade said.

Meade and Boli, Carolina Hurricanes season-ticket holders, could have taken up Canes owner Tom Dundon on his offer to move to the lower bowl for Tuesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators. Just drop by one of the ticket relocation tables before the game and they could have had seats closer to the ice.

“But we told ’em these are the seats we like,” Meade said. “I’m not sure stuff like giving out seats down low is going to make a big difference. I think what will really get more people in here is having a team that wins.”

The Canes did win, edging the Senators 2-1 in a grinding game with two third-period goals. Sebastian Aho tied the score and Victor Rask had the winner on a power play as the Canes opened an eight-game homestand by beating the struggling Sens.

Dundon, the Dallas billionaire who bought a majority share of the team from Peter Karmanos, is determined to make PNC Arena a destination again.

Bigger, better, faster

Give more fans more reasons to go to Canes games. Give them more value. Entertain them better. Bring the place alive.

“He’s challenging us,” said Mike Forman, the Hurricanes’ senior director of marketing and brand strategy. “He’s uber competitive. He’s aggressive. He wants everything bigger, better, faster.”

Dundon is an outside-the-box thinker, most agree, except with a twist – “He has no box,” Forman said.

Dundon has ideas and wants to hear others. When he took over as owner he mentioned embracing the team’s past and possibly selling Hartford Whalers merchandise in the team stores. He has talked of playing a “retro night” kind of game wearing the Whalers uniform, if allowed by the league.

When “FANuary” and then “Canes Pass” ticket promotions were announced for the Canes’ February games, many assumed those were Dundon initiatives. Both promotions had been in the works before Dundon became majority owner on Jan. 11 but Dundon, speeding things up, combined the ticket promotions with parking and concession discounts to make them more enticing.

“It was nice to have that three-prong attack,” Forman said.

Filling the place up

One of Dundon’s ideas was $10 “early bird” parking for the first 100 arrivals, a $10 discount. That has been done. And some concession prices were lowered – a 16-ounce beer, for example, priced at $5.

Then, the decision Tuesday to offer those with seats in the upper level to upgrade and move downstairs.

Brothers Stewart and Pat Pope of Raleigh have season tickets in section 319 but moved with their wives to club seats in 230 for the Sens game.

“I’m excited,” Stewart Pope said. “(Dundon) keeps saying he wants to do things to improve the experience for people who come out, and I’m all for that.”

Added Pat Pope: “Something needed to be done to fill this place back up again.”

Young professionals

The Canes had success with their “Black Friday” offering Nov. 20, when they sold lower-level tickets for $40 and upper-level tickets for $20. The “FANuary” promotion offers lower-bowl tickets for $40 for select games in February.

But Forman said the belief was one demographic was being overlooked. What about young professionals in their 20s and 30s?

“When you’re 24 years old and two years out of school, you still probably don’t have the time or money to commit to an 11-game plan, our smallest,” Forman said. “That age group, they look at subscription models. They get Netflix subscriptions. We wanted to appeal to that subscription model.”

“Canes Pass” allows fans to pay $97 for the first nine home games in February. Whether attending one game or nine, it’s $97.

Unlike the “FANuary” promotion, the seat locations aren’t locked in at purchase. Those with a “Canes Pass” learn their seat locations by text seven hours in advance.

At least two of the nine games for “Canes Pass” will offer lower-bowl seats and there could be more.

Forman said said about 600 passes had been sold and that the promotion would continue until Feb. 9.

The fan experience

Recently, Dundon took Forman; Chris Greenley, director of Canesvision and in-game marketing; and Jon Chase, executive director of the Kids ’N Community Foundation with him to Dallas. They attended a Dallas Mavericks game and then a Dallas Stars games, talking to their peers, forming ideas about the fan experience.

Forman noted that the Mavericks, owned by Dundon buddy Mark Cuban, offer locker room tours for selected fans during the games, noting the Stars locker room “looks like a rocket ship.”

The Canes group also was impressed with the “smart lighting” in the arena at the Stars game. It’s programmed and has the lights shining around the ice, in the stands.

“Hit a button and it feels like a bigger event with all those lights going,” Forman said.

That could be an added feature at Canes games next season. For now, it’s about making the remaining home games as fan-friendly and enjoyable as possible – a Dundon mandate.

“He wants to give them a product that’s good, wants to give them an experience at the rink that’s good,” general manager Ron Francis said. “He appreciates that that they’re spending their hard-earned money to come to the rink to root for our organization and he wants to make it worthwhile for them and feel they’re justified in spending their money.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

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