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Hockey a hit in Capital City

Entering second season, Bandits build on success

JACKSON — When the Capital City’s new hockey team arrived in July 1999, the soon-to-be Bandits had only three short months to prepare for the beginning of the

season in October.

But now with just a year under their belts, the team, as well as the team manager and marketing agent, is calling the Jackson Bandits a business success.

When the Bandits began their first season, numbers were slow, but January was the month that the team showed remarkable hikes in crowd numbers. The team sold out

five games out of seven in January 1999.

“The coliseum was jumping every night,” recalled Brad Ewing, general manager of the Jackson Bandits.

The Bandits nearly missed the playoffs, but finished on a very high note with fans.

“The business community often is skeptical, and when we were out trying to secure corporate support, the list of sponsors became quite impressive,” Ewing said.

This year the Bandits came in having had a full year to prepare for the season. They set goals for the number of attendants at games, and have increased their community


“We try hard not to say no,” Ewing said. “Sometimes the best we can do is donate some tickets to a game. We try real hard to avoid saying no to anybody.”

Ewing said the popularity of the Bandits has a lot to do with the sport itself.

“It’s very fast paced,” he explained. “Not everybody likes it, but nobody’s ever said to me that it’s boring. If we can get people to come the first time, we think the action

in the arena keeps people pretty occupied. I think essentially it starts with the game on the ice. It’s fun; it’s just a fun sport to watch.”

The number of hockey teams in the South is pretty incredible, in Ewing’s opinion. There are more pro hockey teams in Texas than there are in Canada. And already

Mississippi has four pro hockey teams.

“I think it just has to do with the speed and the physical part of the sport. It’s got a little bit of football in it, but obviously it’s much faster and there is not as much stoppage

in play.”

Another thing Ewing said is a plus for the sport: accessibility to the players.

“They’re friendly, they’re generally down-to-earth,” he said. “And when you meet one of them and stop one of them after the game and ask for their autograph, they’re

willing to do that. That is far more powerful than any commercial we could ever run.”

Ewing said the Jackson Bandits are “definitely a business success at this point.” But that is not to say he is entirely satisfied.

“As long as there’s an empty seat, there’s more work to do,” he said.

On an average night a Bandits game pulls in about 4,000 fans. Seating capacity for hockey at the Mississippi Coliseum is about 6,900.

“Until we sell out every game, we can’t rest.”

In terms of the impact in the community, the Bandits have helped Jackson be seen as a city that is a good place to go for entertainment, Ewing said.

“I think anytime you add a good opportunity for people to spend their money as a consumer, there’s certainly a rollover effect in the community,” he said.

Oddly enough there is no sales tax on hockey tickets at this time, but money made by purchasing food, beverages and merchandise is on the rise with the rising number of


Denton Gibbs, president of the Gibbs Company, the marketing firm that handles the Bandits, said that the business community has truly embraced the Bandits because

hockey is a unique form of entertainment for the area.

“Typically hockey fans are of a demographic that businesses are very interested in, because they typically have a discretionary income,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the sport has become a success in Mississippi and in Jackson and the surrounding areas because it is more than just a sporting event, but multifaceted


“There is more going on than just watching the players skate up and down the ice and try to outscore the opponent,” he explained. “Now there is a nucleus of fans who

have become die-hard Bandits fans. They’re wearing the team jerseys and dressing in the colors, and we’ve never really seen this in that market. You really didn’t see it

to that extent with the baseball teams that have been here or with the football team that was here last year.

“That’s good and that indicates more potential.”

Another thing that has boosted the Bandits’ ticket sales, Gibbs said, is the fact that hockey is an indoor sport.

“Typically all sporting events that have been here in this market have been outdoor activities, and fans have had to be subjected to the temperatures and weather,” he said.

Gibbs believes the team will continue to grow in popularity, although he said one always has to worry about the third and fourth seasons.

“It always has to evolve so that as time goes on the hockey game you attended last season is not the same that you attend this season. It’s really a process of evolving this

entertainment medium.”

The Bandits are competing against a number of different entertainment mediums in the city.

“There is a real competition for the entertainment dollar, and that’s going to continue to tighten as more entertainment ventures come online,” Gibbs said. “But competition

is good because it forces everyone to do a better job.”

Proposals are still on the table for a new hockey arena for the Bandits. Currently Jackson, Madison, Clinton and Pearl are still in the running for the arena, but no decision

has been made yet.

“We’re still in the process of evaluating the arena situation and a potential site for a new arena,” Ewing said. “Unfortunately it’s taking a little longer than we had planned.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.


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