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July 19, 1995 - Image 16

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1995-07-19

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16 -The Michigan Daily -Wednesday, July 19, 1995

Roller hockey shows its
business in Motor City

Mustang Jay Mazur hits the SportCourt to cheers.
Editor's note: This is the last in a three-part series on Detroit's
newest sportsfranchise, the Motor City Mustangs of Roller Hot-key
International.
By Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Daily Sports Editor
ETROIT --Twenty minutes after the game, he still
couldn't relax. Motor City Mustangs captain Bobby
Reynolds stood, sweating in the sweltering sauna of Cobo
Arena, taking care of business.
The 7-5 loss to Philadelphia had to be put as far out of his mind as
he drenched jersey that clung to his back. Youngsters were swarming
him for autographs during a post-game skate promotion, and Reynolds
had to smile and oblige. In Roller Hockey International, personal
comfort has to come after pleasing the customers.
"Most pro athletes don't care about the fans at all," says Mustangs
fan Jim Hollinger, 43, of Roseville. "Letting the kids skate with them
after the game is great. It's refreshing."
For the Mustangs, it's prudent policy. Sports business is show
business, and putting the fans' fannies in the seats night after night is
job No. 1. "We've got to entertain them and make them happy," says
Mustangs part-owner and Detroit Red Wing Shawn Burr, who has
signed a number of autographs himself to
promote his new team. "We've got to keep them 4
coming back."
Marketing a professional team -
especially when it's part of a new sport -
can be an overwhelming task. Roller hockeym
is a hard sell, even in a hockey-crazed city
like Detroit. As Burr says, it's an
"uncertain" investment, and the only way to
improve the organization's chances is to put
out a quality product, make it attractive, and
then promote, promote, promote.
Sports business is show business.
The Mustangs have tried just about ,
everything. Ticket prices are low -only $20 for
prime seats and $5 for the rest -and the
gimmicks are amusing. When the visiting team
heads onto the floor, Vivaldi's light, wispy "The
Spring" from his classical symphony "The Four
Seasons," tiptoes through the air. Wailing
-guitars and pounding drums announce the
arrival of the Mustangs.
Fans are challenged to shoot the puck
themselves at a booth in the concourse,
treated to giveaways and entered in contests.
Hockey legend Gordie Howe peeks in and k
_ut to sign autographs. The seats are dotted
'ith free placards urging Motor City to
"GO! MUSTANGS GO!" The club even-
went as far as to get a horn to sound after Roller hockey's a

each Motor City goal - but they had to bring in a garbage truck
to do it.
It was trashed after the first game.
"We have to put all of our energy into getting people in here," Bul-
says. "If they have a goodtime and then look down and say, 'Oh, we
won.' That's great."
But sometimes, they may not want to look down. Crowds have
been very dissappointing, Bute says. Attendance has averaged below
4,0(X) in 10,000-seat Cobo Arena, quite possibly because RHI smacks
of the minor leagues. It is drowned in bright colors, loud logos and
cheesy nicknames. There isn't a Ranger or Bruin-like team to be found.
Instead, fans will see the RollerGators, the VooDoo and the
Barracudas.
The SportCourt playing surface, engineered to make the puck more
visible, is sky blue and makes the players look like they're skating on a
swimming pool. There are advertisements everywhere -even on
uniforms - andcaptain Reynolds' "C" was made of black hockey
tape for the first half of the season.
Growing pains abound. Goal judges turn on their red lights too soon,
pieces of plexiglass break a little too often and players slip and fall at
times for no apparentreason. Empty seats are far too plentiful. "We're

The Mustang clean-up crew picks up after a rare fight.
not perfect," says Mustangs part-owner and forward Terry Shook.
However, RHI is no rookie-league, rinky-dink, get-money-from
the-fans-any-way-you-can operation. It's run by people with major
league experience who know how to put out their product. Motor City
at least looks professional.
"I've been really happy with the presentation of the boards, the
floor, even the announcing and the music," Burr says. "It looks good
and that's important."
The Mustangs also know the importance of being trendy. Shook
says the sport's target audience is youngsters aged 10 to 17. "Just look
at the crowd," Burr says. "It's at least half kids." That's because they
actually enjoy the game in the streets, making roller hockey unlike
other American bastardized sports like indoor soccer and arena
football. It has fans who are players.
In-line skating is the fastest growing sport in the United
States among youth, so it's no coincidence that the music blaring
out of the Cobo loudspeaker is Pearl Jam and Green Day's
greatest hits. Clowns roam the concourse, merchandise is stylish
and violence is eschewed (though the crowd is loudest during the
rare fight) to lure families.
The Nintendo generation's fast-food appetite is satisfied by the
game's offensive nature. RHI hockey is wide
open with only four skaters per side, no offside
rule and, as Mustangs coach Marty Howe says.
"The whole league's structured for blowouts."
Burr says this is all in the hopes that the "kids will
come back -and bring their parents."
That's fine with fans like Dan Peitz, 11, of
Livonia, who says, "It's pretty fun. I just like
hockey. Rollerlhockey or hockey, it doesn't
matter. I like the Mustangs and the Red Wings."
The only problem is, Peitz was wearing a Red
Wing shirt. The Mustangs may have too much
trouble getting out of the NHL's shadow. Winged
wheels are everywhere, even on the beer cups and
popcorn containers sold at Motor City games.
The Wings are inmensely successful, but Burr
and Shook feel the Mustangs can be as well-
when they get an identity of their own.
"(Roller hockey) is its own animal," Burr
says. "We just have to get some fans."
Promote, promote, promote. As the record
crowd of 5,016 filed out on July 14, Reynolds
could finally shake out his aching hand. But he
couldn't help smiling when two fans passedby,
reciting an announcer's line they'd heard earlier.
"Do you remember that?"
"Yeah. Watch the puck. You might get hurt,
or worse, you might spill your beer!"
OHN A HAN LURE Da Minor league? Maybe, but sports business is
show business.

ction and speed are among its strongest selling points.

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