Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Pyrrhic Relocation

I held off on posting this, but the timing seems right as the Flames made a major decision regarding their AHL affiliate while an ECHL team announced that they would take the next season off in order to get their business in order. While the AHL move makes sense for a couple of reasons, it also signals the end of the AHL in a city past the Central Time Zone. The AHL brand, while strong, takes another hit out west where they had been building on the success of the Manitoba Moose and Abbotsford Heat. Such is the case, though, when your division plays two time zones away.

The Adirondack region, housed out of Glens Falls, New York, has been home to the Adirondack Red Wings and the Adirondack Phantoms in their history over the last 25 years. The fans in Adirondack have seen varying degrees of success, but none has come close to that of the original Red Wings team that sent a multitude of players, coaches, and general managers to the NHL. The Red Wings also captured the Calder Cup on four occasions: in '80-81 over the Maine Mariners, in '85-86 over the Hershey Bears, in '88-89 over the New Haven Nighthawks, and in '91-92 over the St. John's Maple Leafs. Needless to say, there have been some fond memories made in Glens Falls.

Of course, there have also been some not-so-fond memories, but I link to that simply because it's funny. Well-played, Mr. Mendelson!

Back to the task at hand, it seems that the move from Abbotsford was more about money and less about development and having an AHL team close to its NHL affiliate. The team somehow roped former mayor George Peary into a ten-year deal that provided them with $5.7 million per season for doing nothing more than existing in Abbotsford. Without that money, the Calgary Flames' AHL team would have easily been bleeding red ink thanks to being plopped down in the middle of British Columbia, also known as Canucks country. If you're not aware, Calgary and Vancouver don't really like one another, so asking the people of Abbotsford, British Columbia to cheer for the Flames' AHL affiliate seems like a boneheaded idea.

But they went with it anyway. And, according to this CBC report, "[w]ith the team pulling in around 2,000 fewer fans per game than the minor hockey league average, taxpayers in Abbotsford have covered $7.2 million in losses in five years, plus the costs associated with owning and running the stadium." Tack on the fact that Abbotsford built a brand-new arena in 2009 to house the Heat as the main tenant, and you have yourself one ugly situation in the quiet hamlet of Abbotsford.

The irony isn't lost on me that I wrote about these very two cities - Abbotsford and Adirondack - back in the summer of 2009 as franchises were on the move. At that time, I wrote, "the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre will seat 6653 fans along with 12 boxes, 20 private suites, and 2 party suites. The arena's total seating can expand to 8500. In this writer's opinion, the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre is probably the perfect size for the AHL for a new team in a new location."

While I still believe that the 6653-seat Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre is a good AHL-sized rink in a smaller market, the fact of the matter was that the Heat were doomed from the beginning.

Average Attendance Per Year
Year Average Fans AHL Rank/30 Playoffs AHL Rank/16

If you'll notice, Abbotsford was barely filling half of their brand-new, multi-million dollar facility, and didn't even hit the 50% mark in this last season after Calgary announced they were seeking relocation for the franchise. Worse yet is the fact that they never hit the 50% mark once in the playoffs! How do people not get geared up for playoff hockey?!?

I'll tell you how: announce that you're leaving the city for potentially greener pastures mid-season. And last week, the announcement was made that the Adirondack Flames will play next season out of Glens Falls, New York as the book was closed on Abbotsford and the Heat.

Moving to Adirondack has an advantage in reduced travel costs within the AHL, but it will affect the Flames in terms of recalls. However, if the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, and Phoenix Coyotes all make it work, so can the Flames. And personally, the city of Abbotsford can use the break when it comes to covering the team's losses.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman told CTV Vancouver, "We've actually we actually managed to save the taxpayers about 50 per cent. Fifty cents on the dollar from what the projected losses would have been." In a time when infrastructure and costs are being managed with tighter budgets for cities and townships, that's huge savings that can go into the city's budget to improve Abbotsford.

While both the city of Abbotsford and the Abbotsford Heat lost in the arrangement, both will be better off by parting ways. I know it sucks for hockey fans in and around the Abbotsford area, but this was a necessary move by both the franchise and the city. It's a Pyrrhic victory for both in this case, but both parties will be better off in the long run.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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