Basketball

Hurricanes’ GM Levingston remains optimistic about attendance

It’s a new basketball franchise in Halifax, with a new name, new players and (mostly) new owners---but the same attendance problems.

Hurricanes players look on during a drill during their training camp in December.
Hurricanes players look on at a drill during their training camp in December.   Dillon White

Like the Halifax Rainmen before them, the Halifax Hurricanes are winning games in the National Basketball League of Canada, but are struggling to put fans in the stands.

The ‘Canes have started the season 6-1 and are currently in first place in the Atlantic Division.

According to the NBL’s attendance statistics, approximately 2,000 fans showed up to the Scotiabank Centre for the new franchise’s opening game on Boxing Day.

Since then, the Hurricanes have won all of their home games but have seen a steady decline in attendance. In their most recent contest against the Island Storm, there were just 1,238 fans in attendance.

The numbers so far this season with the Hurricanes are not living up to the attendance numbers for the Halifax Rainmen. Last season, the Rainmen averaged almost 2,500 fans per home game.

Comparatively, the Halifax Mooseheads have averaged upwards of 6,000 fans at Scotiabank Centre this season.

However, the slow start in attendance does not have Hurricanes’ general manager Andre Levingston worried.

Levingston was the owner of the Rainmen before they filed for bankruptcy in July and is now a shareholder with the Hurricanes as well.

Levingston says a big reason for the slow start in attendance is the time of the year.

The NBL games began late in December this season, as opposed to a November start last season.

“We’ve always had poor attendance in the month of December and early January,” Levingston said. “People are coming back from vacation and getting over the Christmas blues and those type of things.”

Despite these factors, the Rainmen averaged upwards of 3,000 fans during the months of December and January last season. However, the numbers were much lower to start the season.

Levingston’s son, Tyrone, was involved with the Rainmen in the past and is preparing to launch a new NBL franchise in Cape Breton next season.

He says the attendance will probably climb when the city recognizes the Hurricanes are a winner.

“Halifax fans are very committed to winning teams,” Levingston said, citing the drop-off in attendance for the Mooseheads since they won the Memorial Cup.

Despite his father’s troubles as the Rainmen owner, Tyrone Levingston isn’t phased about founding a new franchise in the same province.

“This is a totally different market,” Levingston said. “Halifax is a much bigger city and has a lot more going on than here in Sydney.”

Andre Levingston’s aforementioned troubles with the Rainmen may be another contributing factor to the the Hurricanes’ attendance this season.

A cloudy past

The final season for the Halifax Rainmen ended in embarrassment.

The team was forced to forfeit the NBL’s championship game last year. This was due to a brawl that broke out in a shootaround before the game with their opponent, the Windsor Express.

The brawl resulted in fines and suspensions for 11 Rainmen players and their coach. Amidst the storm of criticism and financial troubles, the team filed for bankruptcy in July.

According to bankruptcy documents, the team was more than $695,000 in debt when Levingston’s investment company filed. The team also owed money to several creditors, including the players.

But it didn’t take long for professional basketball to come back to Halifax.

The Hurricanes have a group of 26 shareholders, including Levingston.

Levingston acknowledges that they could be trying to win back some fans this season.

“This is not an overnight success type thing,” Levingston said. “This is a business. Like any other business, we have to put a lot of hard work into it….we have to win back the confidence from fans that we maybe lost from the fiasco from last year.”

But with a new coach, new roster and a more financially sound ownership group, the Hurricanes are trying to leave the Rainmen’s cloudy past in the wind.

The forecast for the future

Levingston anticipates that the attendance numbers will rise as the season goes on, and the success of the team will grab people’s attention.

“We’re well capitalized, we have a good team, the product is amazing and I think eventually we’ll get more fans into the seats,” Levingston says.

The Hurricanes have certainly provided some entertaining basketball to kick off their reign. Three of their four home games to start the season have been decided by five points or less.

The Hurricanes host the Saint John Mill Rats tonight at 7pm at the Scotiabank Centre.