Wednesday, 26 April 2017

One Team Bigger

While the focus at this time of year is on the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, there are other leagues across the planet who are still conducting business. The SPHL, who are often forgotten in North American hockey circles, made an announcement today that their little minor-pro hockey league is getting bigger as they will welcome the 13th franchise to the league next season. The logo to the left? That's the logo of the newest franchise as Birmingham, Alabama will welcome the Bulls to town to take part in the SPHL season. While I'm not certain the logo is one that will endear fans to the team immediately, it seems like the SPHL's newest franchise will be in good hands when it comes to the business side of the equation.

After a unanimous vote to expand into Birmingham, the SPHL announced that Art Clarkson, the former owner of the ECHL's Birmingham Bulls in the 1990s, would be the man in charge. Clarkson has been on the radar for the SPHL with the league officially confirming to Solomon Crenshaw Jr. of the Alabama Newscenter in January that talks had happened with Clarkson about expanding into the city. With the official announcement today that it is happening, the "unfinished business" that Clarkson feels he has with the Bulls can flourish.

"It'll be a 28-game home schedule, 56 games home and away," Clarkson said at today's press conference. "We will start the last week of October and we will finish the first week of April. Then we'll have the playoffs and win the championship next year."

Wow, bold statement when one doesn't even have a team yet. The Bulls will have a home, though, as they'll call the Pelham Civic Complex Ice Arena home next season. The arena is currently undergoing renovations to be able to accommodate the new pro hockey franchise, and there will be added seating. Michael Tomberlin of the Alabama Newscenter wrote, "Pelham Mayor Gary Waters said the city 'stuck our toe in the water' three years ago but said things weren’t right for a move into pro hockey. Now, he says, the time is right."

With the SPHL adding a second team in Alabama and their 13th team in the circuit, credit has to be given to the SPHL for developing a solid following in a place where hockey was once thought as a foreign concept. The league ranges as far north as Peoria, Illinois and Evansville, Indiana, and as far south as Pensacola, Florida. From east to west, they have teams in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Roanoke, Virginia and skip across the map to Southaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. They have a nice little area carved out on the map where they play, and they seem to be improving their product each and every year.

Birmingham will most likely have an immediate rival as the Huntsville Havoc will occupy the same state, so there's a chance for some immediate marketing right there. The Bulls are getting a guy who is passionate about hockey in Birmingham to run the team, and the SPHL is unanimously behind this expansion so there's a good foundation to start with when it comes to the Bulls getting off the ground. Having the city behind the team in terms of upgrading the arena is a great show of faith from the municipal government, and the fans seem excited for Bulls hockey to begin stampeding in 2017-18.

While that championship boast might be the toughest dream to achieve, the Bulls will get a chance to revive a great name from the WHA days and the ECHL days. The SPHL will be the new league for the Bulls, but it seems they're already off and running.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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