LEAD Client Receives National Recognition
(GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN) –While the ballpark search was going on in the early 1990s, the DeVos and Van Andel families of Grand Rapids were gathering support for a publicly funded convention center expansion and new arena for a professional hockey team they would own.
Many folks were skeptical, as several hockey teams had failed in the city. But when an $11.5 million contribution from Jay and Betty Van Andel helped secure approval for the project in 1994, Dan DeVos and David Van Andel (whose fathers co-founded Amway) formed what would become the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The following year, Diane Maher, the CFO for DeVos’ numerous businesses, recruited former Deloitte co-worker Tim Gortsema. “She asked me if I wanted to oversee the finances of a hockey team,” said Gortsema, the team’s president, who grew up 15 minutes from the arena. “This gave me the chance to apply my financial background in a sports setting, not to mention the excitement of coming on board during the birth phase of both the team and the building.”
The $77 million Van Andel Arena opened for the Griffins’ 1996 inaugural season, and the club had to cap the season ticket base at 7,000 because of high demand. When interest began to wane after about a decade, management made several changes, like offering more targeted concessions discounts and having its game-day staff wear team polo shirts, rather than formal attire.
“We looked like undertakers, not hockey fans!” Gortsema exclaimed.
The club’s total revenue has increased for nine consecutive seasons, setting franchise records in each of the last two, Gortsema said. Ticket sales revenue has increased for nine consecutive seasons; full-season renewal percentage stands at 90%; and sponsorship revenue has increased for 11 consecutive years, setting franchise records in each of the last five seasons. Additionally, the club ranked first in the AHL in both average and total turnstile count last season and has drawn more than 300,000 fans per season for six straight seasons.
This summer, Billboard named the arena the top-grossing venue of its size (capacity 10,001 to 15,000) in North America, and No. 6 worldwide, as the building tallied more than $19 million in ticket sales between November 2018 and April 30 from its 36 shows, which drew more than 305,000 fans.
Not only does the team have 10 employees with 20 years or more in tenure, but SMG has managed the arena since the beginning and is signed through June 2028.
The arena has had numerous renovations over the past few years and just a slapshot away are three under-construction mixed-use developments.
The team also operates the city-owned Griff’s Icehouse, and owns two other open-to-the-public rinks nearby. Gortsema said the rinks provide an avenue for the club to show its appreciation for the community’s support.