Originally created 09/25/98

Lynx GM anticipates success



When he arrived in January, Paul Gamsby rejected the notion that Augusta would be a tough sell.

The Augusta Lynx general manager knew it all along. Hockey sells itself.

"I think it's silly to think Augusta's any different that anywhere else," Mr. Gamsby said. "I think if you have a product people want to see, they will come out to see it."

On Thursday, his vision was realized. When the puck drops Oct. 15 at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, the Lynx will play their inaugural game against the Jacksonville (Fla.) Lizard Kings before a sold-out crowd of more than 7,000 fans.

The team announced that the last seats were sold late Wednesday, just four days after individual tickets went on sale at the civic center box office.

The Lynx will install temporary seats in each corner of the arena, where luxury boxes will be built, to push the capacity to more than 7,000 for opening night. Normal seating capacity for hockey games at the civic center will be around 6,800.

"I think some people thought we couldn't do it, but I honestly never felt that way," said Mr. Gamsby, a Toronto native. "The way the market has reacted to us has been overwhelming. I had heard and read things about the history of this town not being an early-buying market for events, but I think people want to see hockey. And they've proven that."

The sellout is an East Coast Hockey League first. The Lynx are the only team to sell out a weekday home opener in an inaugural season since the league's inception in 1988.

"I'm happy to say that my wildest dreams have come true," said civic center General Manager Pat Cumiskey, who played a key role last winter in helping to bring the Raleigh (N.C.) IceCaps to Augusta. "I don't think that I'm surprised, because I felt it would catch on, but this is very exciting nonetheless."

And the success stories are similar for two more teams that make their league debuts in 1998.

The Greenville (S.C.) Grrrowl, which will play in the new 13,000-seat Bi-Lo Center, have sold more than 10,000 tickets for opening night, with season-ticket sales nearing 3,700.

The Florida Everblades' new 7,500-seat arena in Fort Myers, Fla., won't be ready until mid-November, but the team has already sold more than 3,000 season tickets. Team officials expect tickets for the home opener Nov. 19 to sell out within days of going on sale Oct. 12.

"It's exciting to see that we're all doing well, and I think it's a compliment with the way hockey in the South has exploded," Lynx Assistant General Manager Mike Pierson said. "It's incredible what we've all done. In our case, it's a great compliment to our staff and to the city."

Through Thursday, the Lynx had sold nearly 1,600 season tickets. Mr. Gamsby expects to reach 2,000 once the season begins.

"We've talked to other teams around the league, and they've all said to expect season-ticket sales to pick up after the first game," Mr. Gamsby said. "This market is no different than any other. Some people want to come out for one game to see if they like it. And once they see the product and enjoy the game and the events that happen at the game, they'll want to come back."