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More than just ticking the box

04 Oct 2018

More than just ticking the box Image

By David Schout

Reflecting on eight years at the helm as general manager of O’Brien Group Arena, Paul Keisler has a lot to be proud of.

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but time really does fly when you’re having fun,” the outgoing manager said on his final day.

Four months after the venue opened in February 2010, Mr Keisler received a phone call asking him to manage a place he sheepishly admitted he didn’t know existed. As a passionate sports fan however, he was excited about the opportunity.

“There was nothing like it,” he said, referring to an Australian venue with two ice rinks under one roof. “We were just making things up as it went. No one had ever done it before in Australia, in terms of one side being for sport and one for recreation.”

Soon, they were welcoming in half a million visitors (both spectators and skaters) a year, a figure they’ve maintained until today.

The arena, previously known as The Icehouse, would go on to host international ice hockey and speed skating championships as its CV continued to grow.

“I think the intimacy of our rink plays to the advantage of ice hockey spectators … yeah, we’d like to have 20,000 seats, but we can do 2200 where everyone has a ‘front row’ seat to the action.”

Mr Keisler said that, despite overseeing those international events, his best achievement was creating a passionate workplace.

“Our achievements are underpinned by a strong culture,” he said.

He said this was highlighted by the commitment of colleagues creating a venue that people return to.

“We don’t want to be a ‘tick the box’ activity,” he said. “We don’t want people to go ‘Oh I went to the arena, I went skating – tick’. We want them to say ‘I went to the arena, had a really great time, got served by some bubbly people, someone gave me a free lesson and I might go back and watch a hockey match’. I want them to come back.”

He derived a huge amount of pride in hearing stories of children whose passion for ice sports originated from skating for their first time at the rink.

“That’s an achievement I don’t own. That’s an achievement of the venue,” he said.

After five years on the executive committee of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, Mr Keisler has also decided to step down.

His new role with a sports startup, however, is located in Docklands, and he assured Docklands News he won’t be lost to the area.

“I’m a Docklander at heart,” he said with a grin.

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