About six weeks ago, the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls prepared for the San Diego Chargers to make a decision on if they wanted to stay in the market.
The Gulls had two plans once the Chargers made their choice, one celebrating the team staying and another lamenting their decision to leave. The NFL gave the Chargers a mid-January deadline to determine if they wanted to relocate from San Diego and Qualcomm Stadium and the Gulls had this timeframe in mind.
“We wanted to be at least knowledgeable of our local market so we were ready for either scenario,” Gulls president of business operations Matt Savant said.
The Chargers decided to move to Los Angeles and this choice put plans in motion by the Gulls to create a situation where local sports fans could get together, talk, commiserate a little but also check out the area’s other pro contact sport.
This event will come Feb. 18 when the team will host a “Join the Nest” pregame tailgate to celebrate San Diego sports in advance of their contest against the Tucson Road Runners at Valley View Casino Center. Chargers season ticket holders who RSVP and get email confirmation will receive a free Gulls game ticket and a “Join the Nest” t-shirt. Gulls coach Dallas Eakins will also address fans during the tailgate.
“We’re looking at it as they just lost something that was a mainstay in their life for some people for 50 years. So every fall and winter they’re used to going to sporting events and having that kind of sports camaraderie, and we still have it,” Savant said. “So we’re in the same timeframe of the year as far as NFL and AHL run at the same time roughly, so we’re saying ‘just come and hang with us. Experience hockey. We’re a fun group and roughly the spend would probably come out to be less expensive depending on where you choose to sit so you can save a few bucks and still get your San Diego sports fix.’”
Since this incarnation of the Gulls started play last season, they’ve held some of the AHL’s top attendance numbers. In 2015-16 they ranked second in the league at 8,675 per-game and this year they’re fourth at 7,975 per-game. Savant noted that following the Chargers’ announcement, more fans have become interested in catching a Gulls game. He said Friday’s Star Wars Night game against the San Jose Barracuda will likely sell-out the team’s 12,920 seat arena.
“People are showing up – whether it’s the support from the Chargers fans or just the local market doing what they traditionally do, which is come out to see Gulls hockey,” he said.
The Gulls understand that the AHL isn’t the NFL in terms of popularity. But they believe in their organization and hope that some Chargers fans can see that they have a fun fall/winter sports product that doesn’t carry the same type of baggage that the Chargers held in recent years.
“If you’ve turned on sports talk radio for one day the last three years, you hear it. That’s something that has been kind of looming and all the while we’ve been playing and being successful from a hockey standpoint from the same time the Chargers were playing,” Savant said. “The negativity seemed to be growing over the years so we kind of heard the good, bad and ugly and decided that we probably should do something to reach out to their fans.”
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