Could Watertown and the FHL lose the Wolves?

***Please note much of this is speculation, and we do not wish that the Wolves or any FHL team would fold, but just basing this article based on stories and rumors we have heard.***

Fresh off of capturing the Federal Hockey League’s Commissioner’s Cup title, the second in team history, becoming the first team in league history to accomplish that feat, the Watertown Wolves appear to be riding high as the off-season begins.

But local reports show that the team has yet to ink a deal with the City of Watertown and the Watertown Municipal Arena. The team reportedly paid close to $40,000 last season for the ice time needed for games and practices.

It turns out the Wolves are not the only ones who want to use the arena, but that wouldn’t affect them the entire season, but could make for more home games earlier in the season to accommodate the home show, and possibly cause problems if they make a deep playoff run like they did this past season.

Add-in the facts that the local owners are no longer running the team, their only local opponent in the Cornwall Nationals folded in the middle of this past season, and that FHL Commissioner Don Kirnan has taken over, and admitted that the team lost money this past season despite the championship:

League commissioner and team owner Don Kirnan admits the Wolves lost a little money this season, but he wants the team to remain in Watertown.

It brings up the question: Could the FHL and Watertown lose the Wolves franchise, the longest-running franchise in FHL history?

There’s a lot to consider, again, first and foremost you need a rink, and at the moment the Wolves don’t have one, and are not advertising season tickets for 2018-19 on the team site, but have have events posted on Facebook to get season tickets, including one hosted on April 23.

But they are reported to be negotiating with the city at the end of the month and into June, and team officials have admitted they want to remain in Watertown, with Andrew J. Sarge Richards commenting on the BLH Facebook page, “We fully expect to be defending our Championship in Watertown next season and are in negotiations with the arena.”

Scott Brand, the general manager of the Carolina Thunderbirds, estimates that teams need between 750 and 1000 fans a night to make money in the FHL, depending on corporate support, and attendance has become an issue for the Wolves over the past couple seasons.

Over the eight years of the Watertown/1000 Islands franchise, the team has averaged 735 fans per game, with high of 880 per game, according to FHL stats, in 2012-13, the first season they played in the Watertown Municipal Arena. Since playing in the new arena they’ve average 740 fans per game, but saw attendance dip to 690 fans per game this past season, third lowest in team history, only ahead of 609 in the 2010-11 season, and 677 in the 2013-14 season.

In 2016-17 the team averaged 740 fans, 50 more than the 690 they brought in this past season. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but in a league where every dollar matters, 50 fans a game at $15 a ticket and 28 home games is a loss of $21,000 in ticket revenue, a not-so-insubstantial amount of money in the budget-conscious FHL.

Seriously, $21,000 does not sound like a lot in the world of pro sports, but in the FHL that could be the difference between being in the red and turning a profit. And let’s be real, unless someone has what seems like endless money, they don’t want to keep investing in something that actively loses them money.

And then there’s travel, at the moment there’s not a team within six hours of Watertown, Port Huron is the closest, so there is no regional rival or travel partner like they had when Cornwall was with the league. So they are stuck out on an island way from bulk of the league. And if rumors are true that there’s a team coming to Battle Creek, Michigan, that only means more long trips out east.

BUT! There is rumor (more on this in a separate post later) that there could be a team in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland and the suburbs of Toronto, which would be five-and-a-half hours and just under four hours away, respectively, which could help cut down on travel for the team.

The team is also attempting to start the IDHL this season, which would be a sort of feeder amateur league to the FHL, and could be an additional revenue source for the team.

If all that happens, then there stands to good reason that the team could remain in Watertown long-term. But that’s a lot that needs to happen, and the expansion teams are just rumors, especially the Toronto suburbs one. So if all that doesn’t happen, and that’s a big if as well in the FHL, it keeps the Wolves out on an island away from the rest of the league. And again, that’s before we remember that at the moment, the Wolves don’t have a lease for an arena next year.

We certainly hope it isn’t the case, and I personally believe they will be back for at least 2018-19, but if things in the FHL landscape don’t change soon, it’s not outrageous to think that the team could close its doors and the FHL could lose its longest-tenured team.


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