Local minor-league hockey team the Swamp Rabbits have a new owner this year, who is also now a local.
Steve Donner led the formation of the multi-member ownership group, South Carolina Pro Hockey LLC, in order to purchase the Greenville Swamp Rabbits on Jan. 3, 2018. He has since relocated to Greenville from Daytona Beach, Florida, to become president of the franchise. In March 2019, Doug Heinzer joined the ownership team as well.
Heinzer knows what it’s like to become a hockey fan later in life. His family was living in Colorado when his sons picked up the sport, and he became a “hockey dad.” As he learned the game, he became an NHL fan and even played in a recreational beer league. Last year, Heinzer was looking to invest in two businesses in the Carolinas. Between business calls, he took in a Swamp Rabbits game and was immediately impressed with the rink at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Sitting in the stands, he says he Googled the organization and looked into getting involved. Donner, the owner, answered the email, and in March, Heinzer officially relocated from Texas to Greenville. Today he is CEO of the Swamp Rabbits.
Heinzer says he believes that local ownership improves the mutually beneficial relationship between the team and the community.
“We want to become one with the community, and we think it will raise our profile as well,” he explained.
He says he was immediately impressed with Greenville when he visited, from the Peace Center to Town Hall, and he admired how the city had grown and yet maintained its sense of community. Heinzer recounts supporting other philanthropic causes, but becoming “entrenched” in a community where he lives and plays is much easier than a long-distance, finance-focused relationship. “It’s easy to do when you live here and can appreciate it,” he says.
In 2019, the Swamp Rabbits launched an initiative called “30 Days of Hope.” The organization gave back to the community every day in the month leading up to the home opener. Stomper, the Swamp Rabbits’ mascot, visited seniors at Providence Care and played with kids at Swamp Rabbit Cafe. The organization participated in a clean-up with Friends of the Reedy River, donated to Safe Harbor, and gave season tickets to families with infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital.
“Our goal with outreach is being present and making home a better place to live,” Heinzer says. “We’re excited to enrich the community in that way.”
— Greenville Swamp Rabbits (@SwampRabbits) October 6, 2019
The team is strengthening its relationships on and off the ice. In June, the Swamp Rabbits formed the Carolina Hockey Alliance, in which the team became the ECHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Raleigh, North Carolina-based Hurricanes are part of the National Hockey League. The Swamp Rabbits are also affiliated with the Charlotte Checkers, the Carolina American Hockey League team. Both affiliates are within a two-hour drive of Greenville, which allows for a strong relationship between the organizations.
24 players are on our Season Opening Roster, and ready to make a statement during our 10th Anniversary season.
— Greenville Swamp Rabbits (@SwampRabbits) October 10, 2019
The Swamp Rabbits’ ownership team says they anticipate the relationship bringing greater talent to the team. The coaching staff is also returning for its second season, promising needed stability. The Swamp Rabbits’ average attendance for home games is on a five-year growth streak, despite a losing record each season. This year, as the team is expected to heat things up on the ice, numbers should continue to rise.
The Southeast is not a traditional market for hockey. Heinzer doesn’t seem bothered by the challenge. When asked what he might say to someone who’s never been to a hockey game, he quips, “We’re the coolest game in town.” The Swamp Rabbits intentionally take to the ice with a tough, honest style of gameplay tailored to entertain Greenville fans. With low ticket prices and high energy at every game, Heinzer says the Swamp Rabbits offer an entertainment value for every demographic: families, young professionals, and retirees.
This year marks the Swamp Rabbits’ 10th season. The anniversary is a milestone.
“We’ve surprised people, but I think maybe they shouldn’t be surprised. It’s going to be a breakout season for us,” Heinzer says.
Go here to purchase Swamp Rabbits tickets.