Opening Day: Owners Will Not Settle

WHEELING – Wheeling Nailers governor Don Rigby is understandably more calm as he prepares for his second season in charge of the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers. After all, there’s no ongoing NHL lockout to throw a major wrench into the equation and things appear to be falling into place for the Regional Economical Development Partnership, which took over ownership two years ago.

”It’s a different type of business than we had ever been in before, so the learning curve was pretty steep,” Rigby said Thursday, the eve of the season opener against Elmira at WesBanco Arena. ”I’m still learning every day, don’t get me wrong.

”But it was harder than we thought.”

RED, in conjunction with the city of Wheeling and WesBanco Arena, headed by Executive Director Dennis Magruder, have gone to great, successful lengths to make the Nailers experience a better one for young and old fans alike.

Prior to last season, video boards on each end of the rink were installed, as well as a plethora of flat-screen televisions throughout the arena, which also got a brand-new paint scheme in the colors of the parent Pittsburgh Penguins – black and vegas gold. Drink stations were set up, the once-packed ”Club” was reopened before and after games, and a special suite – the DeNoon Suite – was erected in a corner of the rink with a target audience of businesses and their clientele.

Now, a new sound system is in place and a second suite – the Cattrell Suite – is opposite it’s one-year-older sibling. Combine that with rave reviews in terms of virtually every player signing in the offseason, and it’s safe to say ownership is getting its desired result.

It’s all part of RED’s original 3-5-year plan.

”You have to make the long-term investments into any business to make is sustainable,” Rigby said. ”We think that the community has reacted positively, and I think they see us and the team moving in the right direction.

”We’ve tried to listen and we’ve asked the questions ‘what they would like to see happen here and what’s missing?’ We compete with other entertainment on a nightly basis so we want to listen to our customers and try to react to their wants and needs.

”It’s a step at a time, but we think we’ve made some of the right steps.”

The next step is to increase attendance – the Nailers were at the bottom of the league last season playing in by far the smallest market – and tonight’s game seems to indicate things are pointing up.

”We actually believe opening night will surpass any crowd that we had last year,” Rigby said. ”We have great pre-game ticket sales.

”We anticipate probably 3,500 or more.”

Rigby said the organization is ”probably where we thought we would be,” adding it knew an initial investment would have to be made.

”We’ll see how this season goes for sure,” Rigby said. ”We won’t even wait for the full season; we’ll make adjustments through the season with what is working and what isn’t and see if we can bring some excitement to the arena.”

Part of that equation is playoff hockey, something the arena didn’t see in 2012 for the first time in three seasons.

”It would have impacted positively the bottom line,” Rigby said. ”We think we have a great shot this year and we’re excited about the team that’s been put on the ice.

”Of the first year, that was a disappointment, not making the playoffs. We think we’ve really got a good core and nucleus and think we can make a big push.”

Likewise, RED is making a push to ensure hockey will be here for a long time.