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Published April 05 2012

Force have quickly risen in F-M attendance ranks

Fargo - It was just another day at a car wash until Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper showed up.

Cooper, 18, was just there to wash his car, but then heard the whispers.

“There were two kids and they were like, ‘It’s Brian Cooper, it’s Brian Cooper,’” the Force captain said. “You could tell they were hockey players. They even had Force stuff on so I signed some autographs for them.”

What Cooper went through was another example of the Force’s growing popularity.

The Force enter today just 24 tickets shy of surpassing last season’s attendance mark of 105,209 fans, and there’s three home games left.

An aggressive marketing campaign to make their players familiar has combined with winning to help the Force become one of the United States Hockey League’s most popular franchises.

“I haven’t seen anything else like it,” said forward Jay Dickman, who joined the team a month ago. “I’ve only been to a few places, but it’s nothing like this.”

The Force are the area’s third-most popular team based on average attendance.

Only North Dakota State football (18,143 fans per game) and Concordia football (4,685 fans per game) draw more people.

“We’re glad to see others have success, and we want to see everyone draw well,” said Sommer Lockhart, who is the assistant general manager of business operations for Scheels Arena. “The more sports fans we can have out there, the better we are all going to be.”

Face in the crowd

You’ve likely seen a Force advertisement this season.

They’ve had ads on an electronic billboard at the intersection of 13th Avenue and 42nd Street, one of the intersections in the metro.

Their advertisements are plastered on widely consumed area websites.

Even players have had their faces on television in various advertisements.

“I think just over the four years …we’ve improved our brand and we’ve improved our advertising,” said Force spokeswoman Whitney Baumgartner. “Word of mouth helps too. When you go out, you hear people say they’ve been to a Fargo Force game and they know who the Fargo Force are.”

Baumgartner, who has been with the team for four years, said it’s a change compared to how it used to be.

Junior hockey failed multiple times in Fargo, setting up the Force for what was an understandably pessimistic fan base.

Baumgartner said a new building plus two straight Clark Cup Finals appearances helped the Force solidify a fan base.

In their four seasons, the Force have drawn 393,293 fans.

Making the playoffs three times has added an additional 48,465 fans for postseason games.

In all, 441,938 people have gone to a Force game.

That’s 64 percent of North Dakota’s state population.

“Over the past four years, a lot of people have had the chance to come out to games,” Baumgartner said. “They’ve seen how much fun it is and more than just the game on the ice.”

Building off success

The Force have also relied upon Twitter and Facebook pages to update fans on what’s going on.

They also make their players available for public appearances.

“It gives the older guys who aren’t in school something to do,” Cooper joked.

Baumgartner said team appearances include reading to school children and donating time for charitable causes.

One of those appearances included goaltender Zane Gothberg and forward Bryn Chyzyk going to Hawley, Minn., to read books to a class.

Another example was last season when the team filled sandbags to protect against a rising Red River.

Baumgartner added that this year’s team has done more than 100 hours of community service.

Cooper agreed that being active and having a presence has helped in the community. He said it’s even more noticeable with the playoffs right around the corner.

“Right now it’s 75 degrees, the sun is out and it’s nice outside,” said Cooper, who will play next season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “But you’ve got people wanting to come inside and watch hockey. I think that’s awesome.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com

Despite a four-year existence, the Fargo Force are showing they can compete with local mainstays for fans. The Force are third among area teams in average attendance and are third in total attendance. Here’s how the Force compare with other options:

North Dakota State football: 18,143 fans per game; 163,284 fans total in the 2011 season.

Concordia football: 4,685 fans per game; 23,246 fans total in the 2011 season.

Fargo Force hockey: 3,720 fans per game; 100,449 fans total through the 2011-12 season with three games left.

Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks: 3,590 fans per game; 175,918 fans during the 2011 season.

NDSU men’s basketball: 3,156 fans per game; 44,184 fans during the 2011-12 season.

SOURCES: North Dakota State University Athletic Department; The United States Hockey League; The American Association

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