Josh Tucker pitched seven innings for the Sylvan Lake Gulls in the semi-finals at Gulls Stadium against the Fort McMurray Giants earlier this summer. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

Josh Tucker pitched seven innings for the Sylvan Lake Gulls in the semi-finals at Gulls Stadium against the Fort McMurray Giants earlier this summer. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

Sylvan Lake Gulls have record attendance in the franchise’s second season

Single game record was 1,915

In just their second season in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL), the Sylvan Lake Gulls have grown a significant fanbase.

The Gulls were second among 11 teams in the WCBL this season in attendance with 36,136, according to data presented by the league on pointstreak.com. They also averaged 1,291 fans per game. The only team ahead of them were the Okotoks Dawgs with an astounding 113,825 fans with an average of 4,216 per game.

Aqil Samuel, Gulls president of baseball operations and general manager, said there was a glitch in the system which prevented them from adding the attendance from the first two games. With that being said the Gulls are looking at approximately 39,436 fans and just over 1,300 per game.

The Gulls had their inaugural season in 2021 but because of COVID-19 precautions, only a certain amount of people were allowed in the building. This season, however, with the pandemic on the back burner in the sports world, baseball fans showed up in full force to cheer on their team.

Samuel said when the franchise was brought to Sylvan Lake the goal was to sell out every game that he could.

“I don’t think we anticipated this kind of turnout but it was definitely something we were looking for right from day one,” he said.

“Surprised” and “grateful” were just a couple of words that Samuel used to describe the fan support this season. During the regular season, they broke their home attendance record various times but it wasn’t until the postseason that fans packed the stadium. In the West Division semifinal against the Fort McMurray Giants, Sylvan Lake hosted one home game where nearly 1,800 fans filled the building. But in game two of the West Division Final against Okotoks they set a new home attendance record of 1,915.

“That’s pretty exciting for sure and for the most part that is definitely the high end of our capacity as far as what we can handle in there with concessions, and washrooms. But to do that consistently throughout the summer was pretty neat,” Samuel explained.

It was a goal of Samuel’s to be second in the league in attendance. He hoped to be first but admitted they don’t have the infrastructure to keep up with the Dawgs.

“Just based on what I’ve seen here in the last four years I’ve lived in Sylvan Lake, the bar was right there. We just needed to execute our plans to do that and it seemed like these first two years we have. We’re pretty excited about it and we just want to continue to grow from here,” he said.

Samuel believes the fans came out because the demand was always there in central Alberta and the market was starving for something like this. Before the franchise was brought to the community, baseball fans who wanted to watch the WCBL had to drive to Okotoks or to Edmonton, which can be a fairly long drive compared to having a team in your backyard.

“Central Alberta has always been known for hockey, which is great – you know we love hockey too – but I think baseball is a bit of an underserved market in the area,” Samuel said.

He said the team has also lucked out with the timing of the pandemic. After multiple years of lockdowns and isolation, the public is ready to get outside and go to events like baseball. The Gulls also work hard to communicate with their fanbase with tools such as social media and advertising, and Samuel explained their ticketing system has been smooth.

“Having demand is one thing and … any business owner will tell you (building demand) is hard to do, but you have to be able to execute on that demand too, so I think internally we did a pretty good job on that,” he added.

During the offseason last year the Gulls made improvements to their ballpark including a new videoboard, scoreboard, a patio, 10 luxury suites and a concessions stand. Samuel said they’re going to take some time this fall to make some decisions on further stadium improvements.

“We’ve made it quite apparent with everybody that we are going to be wanting to grow… If we add more seats, if we can we will. If not we definitely want to try and beat that attendance record that we had this year. It’s just kind of the nature of who we are as the leadership team and ownership team we always want to get better.”

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