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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Put the UHL on a dead pool list

The hockey dead pools are beginning to surface. It is the time of the year. The robins return in the spring. The snow drops in February and the hockey dead pools at the turn of the year.

I’m all for hockey dead pools. They aren’t like regular dead pools, but rather speculation on the viability of teams and their operations. But I haven’t really seen one that calls the entire United Hockey League into viability yet. Putting an entire league of ten teams on a dead pool list would be a gutsy move. A move made by a rookie. So, what the heck, I’ll do it.

The UHL has been in trouble, off and on for a while of course. And, when you read this, you need to understand that some parts of the UHL will survive. There are financially strong teams in the league, teams that are well managed, drawing good crowds and that will live to see another season, perhaps as members of the ECHL or another league.

Then there are the dogs, or should we say the Hounds. The Chicago Hounds were screwed from day one. I should say the first home game. The Sears Centre, as previously discussed, has been unable to understand and provide the level of service required for this hockey team. Do I need to repeat what has happened? Glass not installed at game time, seats not yet in place, closed concession stands and what else? What do you need to play ice hockey? Ice. The ice was in terrible shape and the surface was unplayable. The Hounds have not recovered. I’ve personally been to one game that had a crowd that was easily under two hundred people. A recent attendance was officially at less than 1,000. Current attendance is averaging a stated 2,028 or 20.91 percent.

Another team that may be on the watch list of some groups is the Bloomington Thunder of Bloomington, Illinois. Like the Hounds, this is a new team to the area, an expansion, rather than a move, the Thunder have been drawing 3,632 (51.86 percent), according to figures from “intotheboards”. Local media says that is a disappointing number. Of greater concern to me is watching the team’s turnover. Sixteen members, including people associated with the ECHL Rivermen. One of the strengths of the team was its association with the former Peoria Rivermen (ECHL) team. A hoped for agreement with the AHL Rivermen to be an unofficial affiliate does not look like it is working either. The AHL Rivermen are sending their AA players to the Alaska Aces ECHL team.

The Quad City Mallards had one of the most successful teams in the UHL a few years ago. After falling on hard times, under new management and ownership the team promised better to its season ticket holders this year. Instead it is struggling to make .500 this year and the average crowds are 3,174 (34.59 percent). That’s down significantly from the 8,646 attendance the team posted in 1997-8 when it won the Colonial Cup, but also down almost 500 from the season average a week prior and the about 3,542 last season.

The Rockford IceHogs have been examined a lot here. The story update is that the County approved funds to refurbish the Metro Centre but inserted language preventing the Metro Centre or the City of Rockford from owning a professional sports team. So, although there is consensus on renewing the Metro Centre, there is not on the key question of public ownership of the team. The team’s owners have said they plan to play hockey in Rockford next season. And, there is some general agreement that the Metro Centre is low balling the team’s owners on the value of the franchise. It is a mess. What happens if there is no UHL to play in? It might get worse. Current attendance is averaging 3,966 or 56.66 percent.

Looking through the figures posted on intotheboards the Port Huron Flags are near the bottom of the list. Port Huron, Michigan has been on a hockey death pool list several seasons. Last season the Flags went looking for money, according to prohockeynews. This week, when the rest of the hockey community saw attendance up, average attendance fell more than 600, according to intotheboards. Average attendance 1,731 or 53.23 percent of capacity, down from the previous season of 2,387.

The Flint (Michigan) Generals are put on the death pool list by prohockeynews. Pulling just 2,191 (54.49 percent), attendance is down significantly from the peak of 3,737 in 1996-7 and 2,422 last season.

The Elmira Jackals are putting butts in seats, almost 3,600 on average this season. In an arena that holds 4,000, or 90 percent of capacity. However the closest opponent of the team is 392 miles away. Road trips are expensive and without UHL expansion in New York State, this isn’t going to improve. Attendance is up from last season’s 2,692.

That is six of the ten teams in the UHL league. On the plus side, Fort Wayne continues to pull very well, again challenging many more established leagues for a draw. Intotheboards said their average through January 1 was 7,839, 74.62 percent, which is more than the 7,777 average for the 2003-4 season, the previous high or last season’s 7,421.

Also, to put the UHL into perspective, remember that this league contracted from a number of markets at the end of the previous two seasons.

Contractions in 2005-6
Roanoke, Virginia
Fraser, Michigan
Danbury, Connecticut
Glen Falls, New York
St. Charles, Missouri

Relocations in 2005-6
Richmond, Virginia

Contractions in 2004-5
Kansas City, Missouri


The Blackhawks ended the 2005-6 season near the bottom of the NHL with an average attendance of 13,318, or 65 percent of capacity, according to ESPN. This year attendance, so far, is 13,283 or 69.5 percent. Their attendance is up. Beneath them? New Jersey, Washington, New York Islanders and St. Louis. Hawks rule.

Wolves attendance is down this year. 6,803 average (40.76 percent) this year, 8,079 (48.4 percent) in the previous season.

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