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Pro Sports, on a Budget

Lower-profile teams like the Ice Dogs, and big-league baseball, are making a play for kids and parents.

April 09, 1998|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kari Bratcher's eyes are the size of hockey pucks as the arena lights go down. Spotlights leap frantically across center ice, the music swells into a thumping frenzy, and the crowd erupts with cheers as the Long Beach Ice Dogs take the ice.

There's nothing like the excitement of seeing a professional sport in person, as 11-year-old Kari--seated with her father, Jeff Bratcher at the Long Beach Arena--can attest. But often big-league games can be too expensive or demand too much prolonged attention to be ideal choices as family outings. Luckily for sports fans, some teams not only involve youngsters in the action with contests, autograph sessions, activities and promotions, they also tantalize parents with offers of cheaper seats and family packages.

The big-league baseball teams have always done a pretty good job of making games affordable for families, but other sports teams, such as the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Mighty Ducks, have higher ticket prices that make it hard for families to attend games together.

It's the lower-profile pro teams, such as the Ice Dogs, the Anaheim Bullfrogs (roller hockey), Galaxy (soccer) and the L.A. Sparks and Long Beach Stingrays (both women's basketball) that have found that it helps to offer more for the family buck. Also offering a good family package is the Fila league, where fans can see NBA players for much less than it would cost if they attended an NBA game.

Hockey

The Ice Dogs, an International Hockey League team, may not match up player to player with the NHL's Kings or Mighty Ducks, but it is scoring big with hockey fans who have kids. The atmosphere is lively and fun in the Long Beach Arena foyer, which offers a virtual playground of air hockey games, slap-shot contests and arcade attractions. There is even a playful mascot "dog," Spike, in costume.

"If we don't even see the game, they'll be happy," said Leslie Wildomar, who, with her husband, Dan, watched their three boys, ages 4 to 7, play before a recent game. "The prices are better for a family--we can actually eat here," Wildomar added.

Seats for the Ice Dogs start at $7--or $5 for Wednesday night home games. A Family Game Pack offered on certain days includes four loge tickets (regularly $14), four sodas, pizzas and programs for $55.

As regular season play ends this weekend for the IHL, the Ice Dogs host Beach Towel Night on Saturday and Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday before heading into the playoffs.

TV writer-producer Barry Kemp ("Coach," "Taxi"), co-owner of the Ice Dogs with his wife, Maggie, said that while the level of play for his team is "clearly for the true hockey fan," the club tries to cater to kids.

"It's a safe, clean place. And for the price of a movie you can have 2 1/2 hours down here--and you won't know how it ends," Kemp said.

In Anaheim, the Bullfrogs roller hockey team, which plays at the Pond, is planning family nights and other such promotions when the season kicks off in June. Ticket prices will begin at $8.

Soccer

The Galaxy soccer team, which plays at the Rose Bowl from March through September, also scores high in attracting families. Seats for children age 12 and younger are $7 to $12; $10 to $18 for adults. A pregame Soccer Celebration is offered from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. before all weekend home games. Admission is free, even if you don't have a ticket to the game. There are games of skill, live music, and food and merchandise vendors in a carnival-like atmosphere.

Basketball

The Southland's two women's pro basketball teams--the L.A. Sparks of the WNBA and the Long Beach Stingrays of the women's American Basketball League--are noticing an increase in the attendance of families and groups of young basketball players, a major part of their fan base.

Seats to a Sparks game at the Forum in Inglewood begin at $6 in the colonnade (the same seat to see the Lakers costs $21). The best seats in the house are only $24.

"We see a couple of adults bringing in 10 kids," said Marylou Youngblood, director of community relations for the Sparks, which begins training camp in May. "The boys love it too. Actually they know a lot more about who the players are."

The Stingrays, which recently made it to the finals in the women's American Basketball League, charge youth teams and other groups of 15 or more $5 a seat, and buses park free. The next season will begin in November at the Pyramid in Long Beach.

To see top NBA players without paying top dollar, the Fila Pro Summer Basketball league plays July 11 through Aug. 2 at the Long Beach Pyramid. Fans can watch teams of rookies, free agents and draft choices all day for $7 to $20; groups pay only $5 a seat.

The Fila league players also generate kids' interest by running basketball clinics. New this summer for the Fila league will be the Youth Recreation League for children ages 5 to 15. The games will be played on portable basketball courts in front of the Pyramid.

Baseball

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