After a successful inaugural season in attendance, the Zydeco look to rewrite the script on Baton Rouge hockey

(Jordan Hefler)

The Baton Rouge Zydeco have brought the fast-paced rhythm of professional hockey back to the Raising Cane’s River Center, hitting both sweet and sour notes along the way during their inaugural season.

Baton Rouge had been without a hockey team for two decades after the Kingfish called it quits in 2003 and eventually relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, as the Salmon Kings.

So with the Zydeco’s season now complete, and amid the backdrop of the city having lost the Kingfish after just seven years due to decreasing fan support, the question is whether the Zydeco can be a sustainable long-term franchise in Baton Rouge

So far, the signs are positive.

Ticket sales account for 60% of the Zydeco’s revenue (corporate sponsorships provide 25% and merchandise 15%), says owner Barry Soskin, and the team drew an average of around 3,900 fans per game.

The Zydeco were also the first team in league history to eclipse 110,000 in total attendance across a 28-game home schedule, according to team President Don Lewis. “That is unheard of for a team in this league,” he says.

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Soskin says he makes sure the attendance numbers posted on each box score are accurate so that fans can gauge support.

“I don’t lie on any of the attendance,” he says. “If a team leaves, I want you to know why. If you are a fan in Baton Rouge and you don’t see a lot of people attending the game, then you can’t complain that the team left.”

The average ticket price for the Zydeco is $12, which compares to the average minor-league cost of $20-to $40. There is a $4 facility fee added to the cost of tickets at the River Center.

Season ticket renewals began in late March, and Lewis anticipates the organization will see an increase in season ticket sales over last year.

River Center General Manager Wayne Hodes says the arena assisted with marketing and purchased a $440,000 center-hanging scoreboard to enhance the experience at Zydeco games and other events.

YEAR ONE: The Zydeco were the first team in league history to eclipse 110,000 in total attendance across a 28-game home schedule. The Metro Council has approved using a $4.3 million federal grant for further upgrades to the River Center arena, including $2.3 million for retractable seats that will allow for rink-side seating by the beginning of the 2024-2025 season. (Jordan Hefler)

The Metro Council approved using a $4.3 million federal grant for further upgrades to the arena, including $2.3 million for retractable seats that will allow for rink-side seating by the beginning of the 2024-2025 season. The River Center currently seats 7,700, and the upgrades will increase capacity to 8,600.

“The new seating they’re going to be putting in for our fans is one of a kind,” Lewis says.

The franchise has a three-year lease at the River Center. Neither Soskin nor Hodes would disclose how much the team pays in rent, but Soskin says it is the highest in the league.

Outside the River Center, the team brings revenue to surrounding businesses.

Hodes says restaurant owners in the area have told him they have three times more business on Zydeco game days.

“I’ve heard from various organizations, such as DDD, Visit Baton Rouge and others downtown,” Hodes says. “They see the influx of people before and after games.”

The hotels benefit when people visit from an hour or two away and spend the night after the game, and nearly 18 percent of game attendees throughout the season were out-of-state residents, according to Visit Baton Rouge.

VBR estimates the overall economic impact of the 2023-2024 Zydeco season was around $8.1 million. It uses Destinations International’s event impact calculator to estimate the economic impact.

(Jordan Hefler)


While the team had a successful first season when it comes to attendance, the same cannot be said for its play on the ice. The team finished with the second-worst winning percentage in the 11-team Federal Prospects Hockey League and missed the playoffs.

“We have to get better on the ice,” Soskin says. “I don’t know if anybody’s happy with a last-place club.”

Expenses are another challenge. It costs Soskin roughly $1.3 million to run the team, not including the money he spent the prior year preparing for its arrival in Baton Rouge.

In addition to paying staff and players, another big expense is travel for road games. The team also currently does not have a separate practice facility, so it had to make other practice plans for two months during the season when the River Center was hosting Mardi Gras events.

The team would board the charter bus at 8 a.m. in Baton Rouge and ride to Lafayette for a daily two-hour practice.

“It’s not ideal, obviously, but we work around it and try to make it fun for the players every morning,” Lewis says.

Soskin has owned several hockey teams over the last 25 years and says he is encountering new challenges with respect to employees.

“The challenges I have with my staff are challenges I didn’t have 30 or 40 years ago and certainly 10 years ago,” he says. “The workforce and work effort are not the same as they have been in the past.”

From August to Feb. 19, the franchise had four different coaches. The team eventually hired Everett Thompson in an effort to bring some stability to the coaching staff. Lewis, himself, was hired as a replacement for the former team president after the season started.

Lessons to be learned

The Kingfish competed in the East Coast Hockey League. Attendance declined steadily for seven seasons in a row. The team averaged 6,003 per game in its debut season at the Centroplex (now the River Center) in 1996-97. By 2002-03, that number had fallen to 1,723.

At the end of that season, following a failed season-ticket drive, owner Scott Bolduc announced the franchise would suspend operations for a season to evaluate its options, which set the stage for the team’s move to Canada. The Victoria Salmon Kings played seven more seasons before disbanding in 2011.

Hodes says there are warning signs when a franchise is struggling such as decreases in corporate sponsorships, merchandise sales and attendance.

“The easiest one to identify is the attendance, but that’s certainly not an issue in year one,” Hodes says.

The River Center hosted three exhibition hockey games in late 2022 and early 2023 to gauge hockey interest in Baton Rouge. All three games were sellouts, spearheading the team’s arrival and the marketing to reach a wider audience.

“It was important that Baton Rouge be in the team’s name, but it was also important that it be marketed as Louisiana’s team,” Hodes says. “We saw that folks from not only Lafayette and New Orleans but Lake Charles and Shreveport were all coming to the games. We could tell that because you get the addresses in the Ticketmaster system. I was hopeful that it would translate to weekends, and it has.”

While year one attendance for the Zydeco set a high bar for the franchise’s future, Lewis says there are areas he wants to improve on for both fans and players.

The organization’s direct communication with supporters needs to improve and the team is looking to upgrade pregame activities to keep fans entertained, according to Lewis. The team will also hire a full-time equipment manager and trainer to enhance player development.

Soskin and Lewis say they are happy with the community and sponsorship support but reiterate that the team’s play must improve for it to build on this year’s “honeymoon” season.

“It (attendance) makes it an easier recruiting tool to tell guys to come down to Baton Rouge where LSU is right down the street and you’re going to play in front of 5,000 or 6,000 fans a game,” Lewis says. “That’s a huge recruiting tool for us.”