Business Sponsors Revive YSU Club Hockey

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Hockey, as most players can attest, is an expensive sport. A good pair of skates starts around $100 and can climb to $850, although some online dealers offer a few older pairs from years past at a discount – for $500.

For sticks, considering that most players keep three or four in their arsenals, they shell out another couple of hundred dollars.

An old-style set of pads, with a lace-up chest protector and round plastic shoulder pads, can be found for $50. The more upscale and flexible multipiece pads range up to $160. Pants can add another $100, if not more, to the bill, again depending on what you’re looking for.

Then add in the other equipment such as socks, tape, pucks, helmets, and gloves and, of course, the childhood lessons, and it’s clearly a sport that requires pay-to-play. And that’s just the cost per player and doesn’t factor in everything else it takes to keep a team running.

“The biggest issue is always going to be the finances,” says Enzo Recchia, organizer of the re-formed Youngstown State University club hockey team. “To fund a season comfortably is $40,000, which comes to about $2,000 per person.”

That $40,000 pays for ice time – both for practice and games – referees, jerseys (NCAA rules decree “All players of each team shall dress uniformly in that day’s game jersey”) travel costs, trainers, coaches and league dues.

For many college students, already strapped for cash, $2,000 is one tough payment, regardless of what it’s for. So Recchia focused on making sure YSU had a team, cut to the bone.

“It was barebones and just asking, ‘How can we play hockey?’ With that, it came to about $1,300 per player,” he says.

A $500 commitment fee is due when training camp opens and three more payments are made during the season. To lower the fee, Recchia cut the standard upfront payments for hotel rooms and travel costs, as well as a paid coach.

“Most teams, probably 90% of them, pay their coaches. We don’t. We have coaches who have dedicated their time and resources to us,” Recchia says. “We didn’t include that [so we could] keep our costs down and help with a successful first season.”

Recchia, a junior at YSU, was a member of the club’s previous incarnation in his freshman year. That team folded before the season began. In the time since, Recchia has worked to resurrect the team.

One of the biggest differences between that team and this year’s is funding. Before, there was one major sponsor, Youngstown Phantoms co-owner Bruce Zoldan, according to Recchia, and when Zoldan ended his sponsorship of the team, it went under.

Recchia’s approach has been to secure several sponsors. This season, there are five major sponsors and many individual donors.

“My goal is to find that one big sponsor because it is expensive to get through an entire season,” he says. “But, again, it still helps having a lot of sponsors because it shows me that the community does want to help and wants to recognize our sport and team.”

Sponsorships range from small donations of $20 to $6,000. To entice companies, Recchia put together packages for each level of sponsorship. A $20 donation comes with season tickets, while the top level includes a company logo on helmets.

“We do announcements during intermissions thanking sponsors and we put sponsor logos on our roster sheet that we hand out at games,” Recchia says. “There were incentives to draw businesses on board. Then once they saw what’s going on, they’ve loved it and want to keep helping.”

Two of the biggest supporters are Ohio Flame, a company in Columbiana that sells fire pits and related accessories, and its vice president, Matt Skillman, who has played with some of the members.

Skillman, a lifelong hockey fan, saw the excitement about hockey teams in the area ebb and flow and was willing to help out.

“I knew that it had been difficult for them to get traction because this is such a football area,” Skillman explains. “I’ve seen programs come on strong 15 years ago and then fade. I reached out and told them that if they needed a hand, we’d be happy to be involved.”

The YSU club hockey team also turned to nontraditional sponsors. This season, the team will play two games against the University of Akron for a trophy as part of an effort to begin a rivalry game. In lieu of financial support, America Makes decided to create a 3-D printed trophy.

“It’s a unique opportunity and America Makes has worked very closely with Youngstown State in getting started and increasing the technology of additive manufacturing,” says Cheri Metzinger, office coordinator of America Makes’ Youngstown office. “When Enzo came to us with the idea for a hockey startup, we thought it was cool because we know what it’s like to be at those beginning stages.”

The trophy, still in design, will be a translucent cup with crossed hockey sticks underneath. The logos of both schools will be on opposing sides.

Expanding the partnership between America Makes and YSU, even through a student group, is also a benefit to the additive manufacturing institute.

“By doing something like presenting the rivalry game with a trophy created in Youngstown by a public-private partnership like America Makes, it tells people that we’re here and broadens the understanding of [what we do],” adds Scott Deutsch, communications and special programs manager for the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, which oversees America Makes.

“People can find out that this is something unique to Youngstown. Not every region has this and it’s important for us to do outreach like this, especially when it’s with our friends at YSU,” Deutsch adds.

Another sponsor, First National Bank of Pennsylvania, says engaging students at Youngstown State is just one aspect of becoming involved with the team.

“We are committed to supporting the organizations, like YSU, that shape our regions and are always pleased to deepen our relationship with the school,” says Frank Krieder, president of its northwest region.

The response to sponsoring the team is beyond what he imagined last academic year when he started planning the team, Recchia says.

“Support from the community and university have been great. We’ve been drenched in support from businesses and people downtown saying they’re happy to have a team back at YSU,” he says. “A lot of people who weren’t aware that there ever was a hockey team now have a team to cheer for.”

Because he is scheduled to graduate next school year, Recchia is fully aware that the team will soon make the transition to new leadership. To ensure the transition is seamless, he’s working with some of the younger players to make them familiar with how the club is organized and operated.

“The biggest thing is reaching out to the younger players and teaching them the ropes, how to manage the books and how to approach each season,” Recchia says. “Hopefully by midway through next season, I don’t need to do anything and that next person is in control.”

Pictured: YSU Hockey Club members Enzo Recchia, Mike Borgacz and Brandon Bishop.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.