A Failure to Communicate at Morgantown Ice Arena

If you’re not playing in a league or attending public skate, good luck finding out when you can show up at Morgantown Ice Arena to play hockey or figure skate.

Running a public sports complex calls for deft maneuvering to satisfy multiple user groups, the general public and your board of directors, and most likely, your local politicians budgeting money for your space.

I will confess to you that I cannot run a fundraising campaign, provide detailed recommendations on mechanical adjustments to save utility costs for an ice rink or even sharpen skates.

But as a longtime player, volunteer as well as business reporter, I can tell you what makes great customer service and what a functioning board looks like. (And a dysfunctional board when I covered a corrupt housing authority.)

I’ve been communicating back and forth with Melissa Burch, the executive director of the Board of Park and Recreation Commission of Morgantown that oversees the seasonal Morgantown Ice Arena about scheduling issues. Her emails are open to public inspection as a public employee, so you’re free to request the board’s and staff’s email.

The issue is well, there really is no schedule. And if one exists, good luck finding it.

The ice arena posts its public skating session on its webpage, http://www.boparc.org/ice-arena.html, but that is it. You cannot find times for drop-in hockey, drop-in figure skating freestyle, or game times for West Virginia University’s ACHA teams.

The lists of excuses of why they couldn’t post a schedule was ridiculous. After several emails, the least she could say she could do is to ask an employee at the rink to leave the schedule on the answering machine of the phone.

When you call the rink, most of the times you will not be able to reach an employee or volunteer, so you get a voicemail for Larry Casteel—the facility’s manager who is probably understaffed and overworked. When I finally was able to reach somebody last week, the person did not know the schedule. Actually, he wasn’t sure if a schedule was made for next week. 

Next week?! You’re doing schedules week to week instead of a month out or more?

The basic tenants of operating a business include posting hours and prices. As I told Burch in my last email, “we want to play and you want to make money and you can’t make money if we don’t know when to show up.”

I don’t understand why the rink has to operate like a secret society. Imagine showing up the mall, expecting that it should be open at 4 p.m., on a Wednesday and it’s not. And you didn’t know it would be open because they don’t post what time they’re open.

I asked Burch if the rink could at least post times on the Ice Arena’s Facebook page, which shows as unofficial because nobody has claimed it.

Here’s her reply on Oct. 15:

“Unfortunately, there are several Facebook generated BOPARC facility pages out there (I have seen them for Krepps and Marilla Pools as well) and we do not have staff to dedicate to managing these pages we did not create.
If there are issues with up-to-date schedules on sites we do maintain that pertain to BOPARC managed leagues, I have copied Larry Casteel and James Moore in order for them to be informed of this and to look into it.”
I also manage social media for work and was a former social media editor at a previous job. Let alone this being 2015, if you cannot build a network of either staff or capable volunteers to manage facility pages as a government entity, you’re failing your customers and taxpayers by not marketing and advertising the facility in one of the cheapest ways possible. Talk to your media relations specialist at the city or county to provide training and advice on best practices if you don’t know how to do this.
Somebody is managing a Morgantown Adult Hockey Leagues Facebook page and last posted on Oct. 10 that they advertised a time for stick-time, and then cancels it at the last minute without telling anyone, leading to people showing up pissed off:
Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 8.49.18 PM
Nothing has been posted since then. No updated schedule. I think someone from the rink is affiliated with the page, but who knows.
Worse yet, on Sept. 27 that page posted a full season schedule of pick-up has been carved out and would be posted later that day. Nothing. No acknowledgment either to the issue.
On the 19th, Burch replied that she looked into posting the calendar generated from the reservation system:
“Unfortunately, if we were to make that link public, the system would only show scheduled slots as “reserved” and would not show what group, team, etc. was in those slots.
This is a security setting on the system so it isn’t something that can be change.  The option is normally used for things like picnic shelter rentals so that perspective renters can get an idea of the availability of a shelter on any given day.” 
Without being in there in person, I suggested a few alternatives that aren’t difficult to do. Once is to create a calendar via Google or Office 365 and embed it. Updating it is super easy.
I even suggested something that requires even less effort: typing up events in a calendar template in Word and posting as a PDF.
On Oct. 27, Burch replied:

“It works well if you don’t have a lot of changes, as you mentioned.  We do have the option of embedding a google calendar for more static activities and have used that for some other things.  Public sessions are really static, pick-up hockey and drop-in figure skating somewhat less so…

I did speak to Larry regarding getting the public session schedule on the answering machine and he will take care of that this week.”
Oh, boy. Creating a calendar “works well if you don’t have a lot of changes.”
That is exactly why you create a calendar of events for the public—to let people know there is a schedule change for your public sessions and events whether it’s pick-up or games. Do you know want to make money? Do you not want people to visit the rink?
If you serve on BOPARC as a commissioner, ask your staff key questions:
  • How are we communicating to our customers?
  • How are we communicating our public sessions?
  • Why are we not posting the schedules on our Web page?
  • If somebody wants to show up to pick-up hockey, or drop-in or any other event at the ice rink, how do they find out?
  • If you are telling them to call, does someone answer the phone each time? And do they know the schedule?
  • In 2015, aren’t most people looking for their information online? Why would we force them to call someone who is tied up at the rink?
  • How often do you create a schedule?
  • Between Adult Hockey Leagues, youth hockey, figure skating competitions, public skate and WVU Hockey, there should come a point where you know very well how your schedule shakes out. Why aren’t we filling out empty ice time with programs?
  • Why are we not using social media frequently to communicate about programs, schedule changes, etc., for each facility? The same goes for the general BOPARC Facebook page, which has infrequent updates despite all the activity at the rink.
  • Who is in charge of social media for BOPARC?
  • Obviously somebody is maintaining the BOPARC Facebook page. How hard would it be for someone at the rink to email or text the employee managing the Facebook page to post a schedule update or change?
  • Do you know you can schedule your social media posts in advance, so you can sit down at once and schedule updates and communication changes instead of interrupting yourself throughout the day?
  • And if you do have a last-minute change, do you know that it takes less than 3 minutes to post an update?
  • Is it worth it to lose a customer because of a failure to communicate effectively, or in some cases, at all?
  • Before we explore funding a staff position, let’s find out who the social media and communications experts are at the City of Morgantown government office and even Monongalia County government. What training and best practices can they provide?
  • Canvass your staff and make social media and schedule communication a part of their daily duties. Or, find a volunteer from a user group to communicate with to relay the changes.
  • How do you define good customer service?
  • Is good customer service include making it a challenge for customers to know how and when they can use our facilities and give us their money?
  • When will you implement these changes?
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One thought on “A Failure to Communicate at Morgantown Ice Arena

  1. Pingback: A Follow-up to Morgantown | hockeynutsandbolts

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