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Saturday, November 18, 2006

MetroCentre plan advances

Earlier in the week the Rockford MetroCentre management presented its plan to renovate the orange downtown box that houses the Rockford IceHogs to the Winnebago County Board Economic Development Committee. The $23 million plan would, in part, depend on the sale of the hockey team to the MetroCentre, the affiliation of the IceHogs with the Chicago Blackhawks and an American Hockey League franchise.

On Tuesday, the committee approved the plan 2-1, sending it to a lame-duck Winnebago County Board. The plan is expected to pass the Winnebago board at its meeting on November 21. Passage is also expected at the Rockford City Council later.

Opposing the plan was the President of the United Hockey League, Richard Brosal. Brosal, wrote a six-page letter to the county board and the city, noting the efforts of the IceHogs owners in building a franchise and questioning the good faith of the MetroCentre in negotiations, "over the past two years, the ownership group has been asking for renovations and an extension to their lease."

Brosal noted that the IceHogs owners had first right of refusal should the MetroCentre negotiate with others during the lease. But that the MetroCentre had entered negotiations with the Chicago Blackhawks and the AHL in the hope of displacing the IceHogs.

In addition, Brosal said, "instead of doing the renovations that have been discussed… (the renovations are) now contingent on an AHL team being in the building… this just doesn’t pass the ‘smell test.’"

IceHogs owners Dr. Kris Tumilowicz and Craig Drektrah had called the MetroCentre’s $500,000 offer to purchase the IceHogs too low, but said they were hoping to conclude negotiations on the sale this week. They supported the plan to renovate the MetroCentre but noted it should occur whether the IceHogs are sold and affiliate with the Blackhawks or stay in the UHL.

Centre Events General Manager Corey Pearson told the Rockford Register Star that negotiations with the team weren’t seen as urgent during the first six months of the year as the IceHogs were examining affiliation with the AHL at the time. He said the MetroCentre was still interested in AHL membership after the IceHogs ended discussions with the AHL.

Incoming County Board member Doug Aurand questioned the haste of the plan, telling the Rock River Times that "there are seven brand-new faces on that Board, and it always bothers me when things are done in what I call a ‘lame duck’ session." Pearson replied that the approval is required now so renovations can be completed for the 2007-8 season.

While MetroCentre officials say three AHL franchises are available, there is discussion on AHL news and websites of only one franchise being open: the former Edmonton Road Runners franchise. Because the Norfolk (Virginia) Admirals AHL franchise is losing affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks, that franchise too could be available. The AHL, which has 27 teams, has limited its size to 30 teams, one to be affiliated with each NHL team. Two inactive franchises have indicated they plan to become active in the next season: Windsor, Ontario and Cleveland.

The Edmonton Oilers, which owns the Roadrunner franchise, are affiliated with four AHL teams, the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Milwaukee Admirals, Hamilton Bulldogs and the Iowa Stars. The Roadrunner franchise was suspended following the NHL lockout in 2004-5, despite drawing an average of 8,854 fans per game, the third highest among AHL teams.

The Norfolk Admirals are 24th in league attendance this year, averaging 3,714 per game. The Admirals have made it to post-season play several times, most recently in the previous season. However, they have never been past conference semi-final level.

Brosal, Pearson and IceHogs coach Steve Martinson have been arguing publicly about the annual cost of AHL membership. Both Brosal and Martinson have questioned Pearson’s projections of the cost of running an AHL franchise, renovating the MetroCentre and obtaining an AHL franchise.

Two other hockey teams in Illinois looked at AHL affiliation within the past two years. The UHL-affiliated Quad City Mallards decided against affiliation at the end of last season. While in Peoria, the ECHL-affiliated Rivermen did affiliate with the AHL.

An attempt by the Cincinnati AHL franchise to resuscitate itself into the RailRaiders failed when the ownership group missed its goal of 2,000 season tickets by 340, despite extending the marketing campaign. When the campaign ended, a dormant ECHL affiliate, the Cyclones, immediately resuscitated their franchise in Cincinnati at a different venue.

Bruce Saurs of the Peoria Rivermen told the Quad City Times in a March interview that the team was not yet breaking even. Last season, the Rivermen had an average attendance of 4,780. This season, so far, the attendance is 4,820, still about the same as during their ECHL days. Ticket prices in Peoria rose about $0.50 cents from ECHL affiliation and the Carver Civic Center, which is also undergoing a substantial rehabilitation, installed new glass and other amenities this season for the Rivermen.

Although the AHL is considered stable, with teams wanting to affiliate, the UHL has suffered. This is all being prettied up by the UHL as a retrenching of the league into the Midwest. The Richmond River Dogs moved to Hoffman Estates to become the Chicago Hounds; the Fraser City, Mich. Motor City Mechanics closed for a year, the (Glen Falls, NY) Adirondack Frostbite folded. And, the second-place Danbury, Conn. Trashers closed after the team owner, a reputed mobster, was indicted by the Federal government.

The St. Charles, Missouri River Otters pulled out of the 2006-7 season. The Moline, Ill. Quad City Mallards underwent a bruising front office battle that is discussed HERE. Plus, the website ArenaDigest.com noted that the Rockford IceHogs are unprofitable. The only bright spots are the new Bloomington, Ill. Prairie Thunder, the outstanding attendance at Fort Wayne, Ind. Komets games and the new Sears Centre built for the Chicago Hounds.

SHOTS ON GOAL: The CBA-affiliated Gary Steelheads may become the first CBA team to resusitate their franchise. The CBA has also shrunk as minor league basketball teams have affiliated with the NBA-D, that is D as in development.

However, on Friday the Gary Post-Tribune said the team plans to announce a 2006-7 schedule, joining the US Basketball League. A new ownership group, headed by Jewell Harris Jr., said the team will play an April to June schedule.

The Steelheads play at Genesis Convention Center.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With prices like they are now offering, don't expect Cleveland to last long. Management is definitely deluded here. Glass seats for $60. $9 seats now $20. Its unfortunate because marketed correctly, even in a major league city, AHL hockey could be successful in Cleveland again. They really missed the boat here though. Do you think Joe Average is gonna regularly pluck down $30+ for a decent seat to a minor league hockey game? I’m sure opening night will be packed, but by the middle of the season, it’s gonna be a sea of empty seats as usual.