Leeds Knights: The rising numbers that indicate Knights are charging along the right track

PERHAPS the most important statistic to come out of Leeds Knights’ entertaining win over Telford Tigers on Sunday night wasn’t the two points secured in the NIHL Autumn Cup.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 4:49 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 11:51 am

Nor will it have been the five goals scored by Dave Whistle’s team, or even the 40-plus saves made by Mr Consistency himself, netminder Sam Gospel.

No, for the clearest signal yet on how the Knights’ popularity is quickly growing in and around the city, you don’t need to look any further than the team’s first-ever 1,000-plus attendance.

It was there to witness the team’s third straight victory, one that leaves them joint-top of the Cup group standings with Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Steeldogs, the only sides able to boast a 100 per cent record.

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GROWING INTEREST: Leeds Knights' Adam Barnes in action against Sheffield Steeldogs in pre-season. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints

The exact figure for Sunday night’s attendance was 1,008, marking a small, but significant moment on the way to achieving team owner Steve Nell’s stated aim of filling the Elland Road venue by Christmas.

Given the declared capacity of the Planet Ice-owned rink is 2,200, there is obviously much work still to be done but, after just four home games - two of those being pre-season fixtures - they are almost halfway there.

And, who knows, if this young, vibrant Knights team maintains its winning habit over the next few weeks, that attendance ambition may see Christmas even come a touch early for Nell.

Down on the bench, the support is clearly having an effect, with head coach Dave Whistle - no stranger to helping build a hockey club up from scratch when at Belfast Giants back in the Autumn of 2000 - confident the momentum can be maintained.

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME: Leeds Knights coach/GM Dave Whistle, right, with team owner Steve Nell Picture: Simon Hulme.

“It’s awesome right now in this building,” said Whistle.

“It’s loud every time when we score a goal and it echoes off the ceiling, it’s great to hear.

“I know for a fact that we will have the best crowd in the league coming up here soon, if the attendances keep growing and growing.

“I’m looking forward to, say, by Christmas time, that this building will hopefully be full and being as loud as it can be.

Leeds Knights have buildt an impressive following in just a few weeks. Picture courtesy of Kat Medcroft/Swindon Wildcats

“And that will help make this a difficult building to come into and beat us.”

As with any new sporting venture, marketing the product, selling the ‘brand’ is key.

Nell and his team - based on years of experience running NIHL National rivals Swindon Wildcats - have been working hard behind the scenes in order to secure sponsorship and interest from other organisations.

Ticket promotions such as the recent ‘Kids Go Free’ scheme have proved extremely popular, helping attract a lot of new fans and families to the sport for the first time.

ON IT: Kieran Brown, enjoyed two man of the match performances for Leeds Knights at the weekend - posting three goals and six assists. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints

The trick is to keep them coming back for more, something the Knights seem to have discovered a way of doing so far.

Obviously, a winning team on the ice breeds success off it and the current run that Whistle’s team is on - unbeaten in five games overall - will only fuel further interest.

Social media - unavailable to Whistle and his colleagues back in Northern Ireland 20 years or so ago - is another key ingredient to increasing interest and, judging by the rising activity on the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, it is another area which the Knights seem to be tapping into successfully.

“It’s about getting people into the building first and making sure they realise how good a match night experience it actually is,” said Nell recently.

“The plan then is to make sure they keep coming back - especially if we want to get this building full to capacity.”