The second theme that comes across in articles you read about the Steven brothers and hockey is they very much expect to be profitable in this business and will set goals and hold people accountable. The article below was actually published over a year ago (March 29, 2013) by Josh Heck of the Wichita Business Journal (bizjournals.com). It gives you a good idea about the passion the brothers have for hockey and also their approach to ownership. After living through the championship last year when Allen won in the seventh game in overtime against Wichita and the back to back championship this year, you can see why the Steven brothers would want to own the Allen Americans.
The Steven brothers work to build a hockey culture in Wichita, and fans are responding
It’s minutes before the Wichita Thunder’s last home game of the 2012-2013 regular season, and brothers Brandon, Johnny and Rodney Steven make their way toward the plush chairs inside their suite at Intrust Bank Arena.
The passion they have for the team and their newfound love of hockey are evident as they talk about the team and its pending return to the Central Hockey League playoffs.
Rodney sits in the first row and Brandon in the second, leaning forward with their elbows on their knees. Johnny, meanwhile, prefers to stand, watching intently from the end of the row as the puck drops and the game gets under way on March 24.
Moments later, when the Thunder scores its first goal of the game, cheers erupt from the brothers and their family members — 14 of them on this night — who accompany them to most of the team’s home games.
“Sweet pass,” Rodney says.
A second goal is scored and a third, all within three minutes in the first period, and the brothers feel good about the game.
The Thunder is squaring off against the Missouri Mavericks, and first place is on the line. A Thunder win — coupled with a loss by the Allen Americans to the Tulsa Oilers — will give Wichita its second-consecutive regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Knowing what’s at stake, Johnny spends much of the first period checking the score of the Allen-Tulsa game on his phone and updating his brothers. Aside from that, their attention is fixed on what is happening on the ice in Wichita. They don’t move from their spots until the first intermission.
Brandon, Johnny and Rodney later find out that Allen won its game.
But the Thunder also wins — handily, with a score of 5-2. That makes the Thunder the No. 2 seed in the CHL playoffs, which were to start Thursday.
Seeing the team’s owners so involved at games is common now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
The Steven brothers bought the team from Chicago businessman Horn Chen in August 2011 and started operating the Thunder under Steven Brothers Sports Management LLC.
Brandon, Johnny and Rodney attend virtually all of the Thunder’s home games and some road trips as well.
Professional hockey was a new field for the Steven brothers when they bought the team, but they made a promise to be visible and available, traits that many felt were missing from the previous ownership.
“When ownership is there, it holds everybody accountable to do their job,” Rodney says.
So far, the Steven brothers have kept their promise, and those close to the team say they’re creating a winning culture and attitude throughout the organization.
Winning on the ice goes hand-in-hand with increases in attendance and revenue.
In 2012, the Thunder advanced to the CHL finals, and the team and its owners are hoping for a similar run this year, with a championship being the end goal.
Paying dividendsThe Steven brothers say they feel good about the strides that are being made with the team in terms of wins, attendance and sales. They say the team was profitable last season and will be this year, despite increases in the operating budget. They won’t disclose specific figures.
The Thunder now has more than 2,000 season-ticket holders. Average attendance this season was nearly 6,000, up from the early 2000s, when it was 3,500-4,000.
The Thunder played its March 24 game in front of 10,264 fans, the largest crowd of the season. That helped the team finish first in the CHL in overall attendance — 184,772 for the season.
Fans seem to appreciate the changes.
Longtime season-ticket holder Rick Boczek says the team is much more competitive than it has been in years past, a reflection of the owners’ willingness to spend more money on a top-notch coach — Kevin McClelland — and good players.
Boczek says the Steven brothers have helped to create a winner, and he hopes that kind of atmosphere is here to stay.
“It’s obvious the Steven brothers do care,” he says.
The team has more than 75 corporate sponsorship partners, including Prairie Fire Coffee Roasters, Hall’s Culligan Water, Sonic Drive-In and Verizon Wireless. The Thunder ranks third in the CHL for corporate sales revenue, though exact numbers aren’t disclosed.
Rodney says corporate sponsorships were up 42 percent this season, and much of the interest is coming from businesses that haven’t sponsored the team before, such as Kansas Medical Center and Subway.
A team approachThe Steven brothers have a record of success in their businesses — Rodney and Johnny have Genesis Health Clubs, and Brandon runs Brandon Steven Motors and Eddy’s Toyota — and they’re transferring their team approach to the Thunder.
The new owners of the team set attendance and sales goals and hold staffers accountable to them.
“When the Steven family bought this team, things changed 100 percent,” says Joel Lomurno, who has been the Thunder general manager since 2007 and has been with the team for 20 of its 21 years in existence. “They gave us the tools to make this thing a very successful venture.”
The Steven brothers have grown the team’s back-office staff from four to 15 people, giving it more personnel to focus on increasing sales and sponsorships. They’ve spent money on attracting top players and coaches and this year bought a bus for the team. (They used to charter one.)
The Stevens also have worked to create a family-friendly atmosphere during games by bringing costumed characters like Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants to games. Kiosks where kids can get balloons or player pictures also are set up throughout the arena’s concourses.
“It’s an entertainment business,” Brandon says.
The owners want the Thunder, and hockey in general, to be popular and successful in Wichita for years to come.
And they’re trying to market hockey to the next generation as well. They’ve added a junior hockey team, and Rodney is involved with operations of the Wichita Ice Center through his Genesis Health Clubs business.
“We’re trying to grow grass-roots hockey,” he says.
- It doesn't take long from championship, to celebrations, to scattered to the winds. There has been a steady stream of players heading to the airport the last few days; Hanson, Tarasuk, Franson, Graham, Zion, Maiani, Lavoie, and Lessard to name just a few. And then those that make the long trek by driving like Schaafsma to Ontario or Bryan Pitton to California. Those that will be here during the summer include the Ludwigs, Bootland, Tetrault and McMillin. It won't be long until the focus will change to building a roster for next season. Such is the life cycle in the CHL.
- With silly season in full swing one of the issues you see talked about is at what point in terms of number of teams in the league can teams get out of their contractual responsibilities to the CHL. There has been the urban legend that if the league gets down to eight or six teams the remaining teams would be free to leave the league. I checked with the league office and was told there is no such clause in the team agreements.
|Courtesy CHL Memes|
DID YOU KNOW: Until this year when Allen went 0-26 on the power play in the finals, no team (either winning or losing team) had ever been held scoreless on the power play in the CHL finals. The closest was the Austin Ice Bats who were 1-22 in 2003 when they lost to the Memphis RiverKings in the finals.