A couple of key new hires who began work earlier this month for Railers HC, the Worcester Railers minor league hockey team, have helped the club continue its push toward being ready for its August 2017 debut and ECHL-mandated goals such as season-ticket sales.
Mike Fisher was hired this month as director of hockey club memberships and Jillian Witkowski of Leicester was tapped in April as community development coordinator.
“They’re both good, young people with key jobs in the organization,” Railers owner Cliff Rucker said.
“For Mike [Fisher], it’s selling, selling, selling. His goal will be to get us to our goal of 1,500 memberships before we enter next season,” Mike Myers, Railers president, said Friday, June 18.
The team must sell 1,500 season tickets, not to mention secure $250,000 in annual corporate sponsorships, to ensure it can begin ECHL play.
The team paid a nonrefundable $750,000 expansion fee. The Telegram & Gazette reported in February the Railers have until January to reach the season ticket and sponsorship benchmarks.
Myers said the organization was a little behind given staff limitations but bringing Fisher on board to focus on what the team calls “memberships,” the rest of the modest organization can begin to build out to a fully functioning minor league hockey organization.
Myers said the Railers had already sold “more than 600 individual memberships”. The team website counted 654 season tickets sold as of Saturday afternoon, June 18.
The man now responsible for driving those membership numbers is Fisher, who grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut. The graduate of Colorado State University is entering his 10th season in minor league hockey.
“The membership aspect of this is very exciting. Very few teams install a true membership model and it’s very exciting to be at the ground level of that,” Fisher said.
[Editor’s note: Most professional sports team have copious perks for season ticket holders, including many similar to the “membership” benefits of the Railers HC Founders Circle. For example, check out the Boston Bruins 2016-17 benefits or those of the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs.]
The first 1,000 Railers HC membership holders will become part of the Founders Circle, which will entitle the holder to up to 25 percent off full season ticket price; their name inscribed on a Founders Circle plaque inside the DCU Center, seat markers, exclusive member merchandise, priority seating and access to events, like Railers HC Night with the Bravehearts, July 30, where the club plans to reveal the new Railers mascot.
Memberships range from $693, for seats on the glass, to $432 for the upper-level corners and ends. They require a $50 deposit; payments are set to begin in January.
Fisher knows his duty is to help potential fans understand the benefits.
“I think we will excite people to get into this program … what we are doing with the community is phenomenal,” Fisher said, citing the proposed Railers HC Pub on Exchange Street and the twin-rink arena in the Canal District.
Fisher previously worked for the Central Hockey League’s Arizona Sundogs, and the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks and Evansville Icemen in Indiana.
Fisher, 36, is suitcasing it at an area hotel while wife Tiffany and son Jax, 16 months, wait back in the Hoosier State.
“Every day after work, I’m spending hours trying to find a house to live in,” Fisher said. “It’s tough to pick a place you hope to be living in for a long time on such short notice.”
Fisher said the Worcester and Railers communities immediately welcomed him.
“I am so impressed with the community in the two weeks that I’ve been here. They’re so proud of the community. They don’t look at me like an outsider. They’ve really been welcoming,” he said.
“It’s really been heartwarming for me. I love it here and I’m really excited to grow my roots here with my family. I look at my son, and the team as very similar — as he’s growing up, I want him to be proud of me working here. And as he grows, the team grows, and I want that to be something that he’s proud of.”
Witkowski, who graduated in May from Worcester State University with a communications degree, is no stranger to the Seven Hills.
She was named Lancers student-athlete of the year this year for her work in the community while serving as captain of the women’s soccer team and member of the softball team.
“It’s an excellent opportunity that I could never think of turning down,” Witkowski said. “I was born and raised here, went to school here and this is my home.”
According to Myers, Witkowski worked for the Railers during the team’s Fan Fest in early April, and was essentially hired on the spot.
Witkowski said she will be responsible for the mascot and player appearances in and around the city, including events like reading programs in Worcester’s public schools.
“My job is to just really get involved with everything Worcester has to offer,” she said.
“Jillian brings this energy and knowledge of the community that we were looking for [in] that position,” Myers said. “She’s a highly decorated student athlete for her on-and-off field contributions at Worcester State.”
According to Witkowski, the Railers are working out the logistics of the July 30 mascot reveal and will be reaching out to kids involved in the city’s summer programs to help bolster the event.
“We’re just trying to get everything going. Trying to get the train rolling, so to speak,” she said.