New Rapid City Rush ownership partner Jeff Dickerson stood at a podium at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Friday, introducing himself to the public with a smile on his face.
Once the press conference ended, he said he was ready to get to work.
Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr, who are with Spire Sports + Entertainment based in Charlotte, North Carolina, announced that they will be mutual partners with Scott Mueller. It was also announced that Luke and Barry Peterson, previous minority owners of the Rush, would depart immediately.
Mueller thanked the Peterson's for their time with the Rush and said both were moving on to pursue other ventures.
"Everyone talks about the glory days of this franchise like it was 50 years ago or something. Everyone says the same thing, we used to pack this place. This used to be the place to go in Rapid City," Dickerson said during the press conference. "We’ve heard plenty of reasons of why, and how it got there, but everyone has said the same thing. The city loves the Rush, and we hope we can get it back to where it was. The truth is, the glory days of this franchise were only a few short years ago. We all have a part to play on putting them back on top, both on the ice and off."
Spire Sports + Entertainment is a athlete management and corporate consulting agency in the sports industry. It recently ventured into NASCAR by buying the charter to Furniture Row Racing last fall, and will participate in the Monster Energy Cup Series this year.
It was while his company put on a race last year at Gillette Thunder Speedway that he and his group was introduced to the area.
They participated in the tourist options in the Black Hills, they had no idea they'd be back in not too long.
"We didn’t do that thinking we’d be back here, but then this opportunity popped up and we thought ‘you know what, this is a great area.’" he said. "We didn’t know much about the city, and it might be too simplistic to say, but I think it’s the people. There’s an incredible spirit and we thought we could plug into that and capture that."
Dickerson addressed declining attendance during the press conference and said there isn't one trick that can bring people back, but thinks creating a culture around all facets of the team can help improve attendance.
This season the Rush are averaging 2,555 fans per home game following Rapid City's 5-1 loss to the Tulsa Oilers Sunday, through 21 home games. That ranks 23rd out of 27 teams in the ECHL.
He said the first thing the organization will have to do is fill the team president vacancy previously held by Joe Macdonell, who parted ways mutually with the Rush last December.
"We want to start with that hire and start creating a culture. I think it's the culture first, you get the culture going and the rest takes care of itself," he said. "You set the tone upstairs in the front office, you take care of the guys on the ice and they’ll feel like family and then they’ll run through walls for you. Hopefully the fans recognize that going down the road."
From Muller's perspective, the match just seemed to fit. He said the process of welcoming Dickerson and Puchyr into the ownership group took about two-to-three months to get finalized.
After doing research into Spire Sports + Entertainment and meeting Dickerson in person, the process began.
"It takes a lot to do this, you have to get league approval and get the financial part and there are many people involved but it went very smoothly," Mueller said. "We’re very excited about it.
"The biggest thing is their sports industry knowledge. It’s entertaining and that’s what this business is about. Getting people in seats and selling advertising to pay for it and they have a ton of knowledge on that. I think he’ll be involved in making some changes here that are probably needed."
Part of that industry knowledge is found in the group's involvement in auto racing. Dickerson said although the sports may appear different, the industries are very similar.
"If you put white-out over hockey and put racing it’s the same thing," he said. "You have to build enough value and excitement for sponsors, you have to take care of the fans, it’s ticket sales, it’s advertising, it’s hospitality. In that sense, there’s a lot of parallels."
Mueller said he was struck by how Dickerson, an outsider from Charlotte, embraced the community. Dickerson agreed, saying that he is taking a bet on Rapid City, but one he feels good about.
He said in his conversations with people from Rapid City, when he asked about how they liked the town a lot of times they would say, 'it's just okay.'
Dickerson disagrees. He said during the press conference that he knows about the professional basketball and arena football teams that are no longer in the area, but he believes in the community.
"In our other business we’re travelling and we’ve seen about every place in this country and we’ve fallen in love with Rapid City. We don’t think it’s' just okay,'" he said. "We could have done this anywhere, we could have done this in other cities in the league but we chose Rapid City. We did that because we love watching this team on the ice, we feel this town has something to prove and we have something to prove too."
The Rush will host the Florida Everblades for a three game series that begins Wednesday and continues Friday and Saturday.