While they may not have been a hit on TV, officials with East Valley ice rinks loved the Olympic Games and the effect it’s having on their bottom lines.
“It absolutely does have a positive impact on our business. There is a spike in all of our ice-related programs,” said Gary Lane, director of corporate affairs for Polar Ice Entertainment, which owns and operates The Desert Schools Coyote Center Chandler.
Television coverage of skating helps get people interested in the sport and into a rink, said Perry Galovich, general manager of Tempe’s Oceanside Ice Arena, the East Valley’s longest operating rink.
“When they see that, it’s like ‘Wow, I want to try that,’ and it’s really good advertising for us,” Galovich said.
Through Saturday night, the viewing audience for NBC’s coverage of the Turin Games was down more than 35 percent from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and down 25.5 percent for the 1998 Nagano Games.
But the coverage is still helping generate crowds in East Valley rinks, said Justin Maloof, executive director of Alltel Ice Den in Scottsdale.
“It’s just the fact that it’s on in prime time, that people are watching. And it’s something that’s not on TV all the time,” Maloof said.
After the 2002 Olympic Games, the facility received a lot of interest in the sport of curling.
“So we said, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s throw it out there.’ We offered a free learn-to-curl session and we had over 200 people show up for that,” Maloof said.
Today, the Alltel Ice Den has the Valley’s only curling club and the Olympics continue to help grow its popularity, Maloof said.
The club’s 80-member roster has Saturday night league play and “offered some learnto-curl classes last Friday night. We had about 90 people show up. And we had another 50 to 60 show up on Saturday night just to watch (league play),” Maloof said.
For the first two months of this year, a record 12,000 people attended open skating sessions at the Alltel Ice Den. Registration numbers for a youth-oriented six-week ‘Learn to Skate’ program are also breaking records, Maloof said.
“We’re currently registering over 750 kids every six weeks and we have 100 on our waiting list,” Maloof said.
Those numbers are mirrored at The Desert Schools Coyote Centers in both Chandler and Peoria, which are also seeing significant Olympicrelated spikes.
The rinks’ “Kids First” program offers youth ages four to eight a chance to gear up and try out ice skating and ice hockey for free.
“I would give the Olympics a lot of credit for it. We just had record sign-up for the program. We had 91 in Peoria and 68 in Chandler. Both of those are records-to-date for enrollment,” Lane said.
Meanwhile, Polar Ice has plans to build a third facility at Gilbert’s Crossroads Park, on Greenfield Road between Warner and Ray roads, to mirror ones in Chandler and the West Valley.