December 2021 Update: HTG was so sorry to hear about the passing of Don Baldwin. Our sympathies go out to his family and everyone at Rink Management. Don meant so much to the ice rink industry; Don’s passion was to see the ice industry grow and thrive, and we are sure he’d want us to pass along his insight on the business side of running a rink.
My name is Don Baldwin, PhD, and I’m a guest writer for the HTG recreation blog this week. I work for Rink Management Services Corporation (RMSC), a renowned athletic facility management company for the past twenty years. We partner with HTG often in the design and development of ice rinks and arenas across the US.
Part of HTG's process, as you may know, is a feasibility study; in this architectural feasibility study, Tom and his team examine the physical layout of the land parcel, determine if there is enough electricity and water in the area, check zoning, and otherwise ensure the land and building are compatible.
Recently, Tom and I were discussing how people building a recreational facility could benefit from more than this one type of feasibility study. Which leads us to why I am guest posting today; for the past 15 years I've been writing business case feasibility studies for ice rinks and athletic facilities. The purpose of this type of feasibility study is to make sure all stakeholders in the project are comfortable with the projected costs and programming. Often, these studies are used to help raise funds prior to the construction portion of a project.
When I look at a location, I determine the area target market, market ice price, and opportunities or groups that are underserved in the area. At the end of my feasibility study, the group looking to build a facility knows if they can afford the utility costs, labor and insurance costs needed to operate the facility at their location's projected activity level. The report is in writing and suitable for recruiting investors, banks, and contributions to the construction fund.
What Goes into a Business Feasibility Study?
Before diving into the details, it's important to note the value of the author's business experience and education. Ice rinks and sports facilities are niche markets where experience counts. Some of the author traits needed to create a good feasibility study include experience, in-depth industry knowledge, and proven ability to synergize large amounts of diverse information into one conclusion (as seen in advanced degree course work).
When I author a business feasibility study, I approach it as a funnel; starting from the top, I gather information, then summarize the findings into a conclusion. Areas that go into a study include:
- Market Study
- What do other rinks in the area charge for ice time? Learn to Skate? Hockey?
- What programs seem to need more ice time?
- How are the area facilities spaced? Is the proposed site too close to an existing facility?
- Who are the groups at each facility?
- National Ice Sports Outlook
- Area Demographics
- How many target market households are there?
- What does the Census say about the area?
- Using either a drive time or a distance radius, determine households that may use a new facility
- Distribute and statistically analyze a survey to area households to determine sports needs
- Client Input
- Will the facility operate their own programs? Or will the facility simply rent time to user groups?
- How much will the real estate cost?
- Are there other costs?
- Proposed Location
This information funnels into a projected revenue pro forma, a SWOTT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Trends and Threats) analysis, and, if needed, location analysis. Location is the largest factor leading to success or failure of an athletic facility.
Once the preliminary work is done and the location appears successful, the feasibility study can then begin to consider expenses. Here are the elements I consider when preparing an expense pro forma:
- Minimum Wage, both current and projected
- Utilities Cost
- Cost of Insurance (Facility, Health and more)
- Living Wage Ordinances
- Real Estate Costs, Construction Costs
- Seasonality (All year or part of the year?)
- Programming decisions (Lease ice time, or run in-house programs?)
With this detail, an expense pro forma can be generated, which allows the client to see a projected financial outlook for the proposed facility.
Final Business Feasibility Report
The end product of a business feasibility study is a written report detailing how an owner or investor can expect the ice rink to net out. Many prospective ice rink and arena projects use the report to recruit investors, banks, cities, and other financial stakeholders. All the factors are presented in a manner that is understandable to the team building and financing the rink.
Additionally, a business feasibility report provides qualitative interpretations that assesses how a new facility would benefit the community and improve the quality of life there. Much of a rink’s benefit lies beyond financial value, providing the space, activity, and resources to pull community members together in a new way.
Rink in a Box
The Rink in a Box design is a facility with just the fundamentals, perfect for small communities all over the nation where one sheet of NHL ice fits the towns' needs. When needed, the rink design can easily be scaled up into something larger to fit custom community needs.
To accompany this small community ice rink design, RMSC has designed a stripped-down version of our Business Feasibility Study. This feasibility study includes a survey of:
- 5 closest ice rinks
- Marketing plan
- US Census information pertinent to building a rink
- US ice sports outlook
- SWOTT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Trends and Threats) analysis
- Community quality of life improvements
- 5-year pro forma, detailing revenue and expenses at different levels of usage
Since this is a stripped-down feasibility study, the cost would only be $4,995, with add-ons available. Clients could buy additional report features, including but not limited to Environics Consumer Data (lifestage data by location), survey-based instruments to determine community needs, sample employee schedules, wage and salary report for ice rink jobs, and/or an economic impact study.
This dual feasibility study approach is an excellent way to start your ice rink building adventure. Together, you will have the assets needed to inspire, educate, and fund the ice rink / arena project of your dreams.