Published April 17, 2009
With news that it looks as if the USHL will be coming to the Chevy Centre next year with Bruce Zoldan as owner, another good debate is alive on vindy.com about low-level pro hockey vs. top amateur hockey.
We hockey nuts are not a big group in the valley, but we're a fervent lot — coming in fast and hard with elbows up and foil on the knuckles.
Here are the links to the latest message board exchanges -- which I might add have been spirited, but not typical message board trashy. So kudos to the hockey nuts. Keep it that way.
Here are my contributions to the debate:
POST 1 in general to USHL vs. ECHL
There are aspects of the ECHL hockey that are certainly more appealing than the USHL, but the ultimate issue of success will have nothing to do with the play. It’s marketing entertainment.
If fans in opposition to the USHL, and 3,000 of their pals, show up at the Chevy for ECHL games, they will have one year to enjoy that team simply because 3,000 fans cannot sustain an E franchise.
In the last 10 years, 27 cities have failed at hosting an ECHL team. And they failed with attendance in the 4,000-5,000 range. They succeeded with crowds in the 8,000-9,000 range. Hell -- Dayton just threw in the towel, essentially. We're not bigger and more hockey educated than Dayton.
Look it up. I'm not a junior hockey junkie making this up.
The City and the Chevy hated the thought of junior hockey -- until they put their perceptions aside and just looked at the numbers.
And it helped to see sophisticated sports markets like Green Bay, Des Moines, Lincoln and Omaha packing them in for USHL.
You may not like junior hockey. But our market cannot sustain an ECHL team. Period.
Post 2 in reply to what has been offered this year at the Chevy:
What you saw this year at the Chevy was a weak facsimile of a hockey organization.
The marketing was horrendous, and there was little in the way of bridge building from the organization to the community.
Some within the Phantoms would say that with only a 1-year guarantee for the Chevy, they were guarded about really hitting a home run in terms of drawing a huge crowd out of fear it would be a market that would only get turned over to a new ownership group next year.
If that was an organization-wide belief, there's some merit to that. But it was a bad, bad decision.
(Colin Powell's Rule No. 12: Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.)
The Phantoms were given the puck to skate with, they should have skated with it as best they could instead of just on one skate. If another team indeed was to bump them, then at best, they built the valley’s hockey appetite and will get a residual result in fans and youth players. At worst, they would have shown the community that they ran a top-notch effort despite the forecast.
What they got, however, was more reason for the community and advertisers to wonder if they can really pull this off.
But aside from that stance, I think there are some major operational concerns that need to be addressed if Bruce's crew is to make this work. I like Bruce’s intentions and his commitment, but between his office and the ice surface there is major operational gap that needs spackle.
The USHL mandates a more structured operation than what exists now. That perhaps will create better bridge building and visioning to build upon the decent organization the Phantoms have now.