One day after getting a HUGE get in the form of a new SPHL team in the Quad Cities, the SPHL was dealt a massive blow when the news came down Thursday morning that the Mississippi RiverKings, one of the longest lasting minor league hockey teams anywhere, with history dating back to 1992, have ceased operations.
From the SPHL website:
HUNTERSVILLE, NC (May 24, 2018) – The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) on Thursday announced the Mississippi RiverKings will be suspending play for the 2018-2019 season.
“This has been a very difficult decision for Robin Hurdle,” said President Jim Combs. “In addition to their tremendous charitable contributions to Southaven and the surrounding communities, the RiverKings have been an outstanding league partner for the past seven seasons. On behalf of the league and its Board of Governors, I would like to thank Robin for her efforts. The league is actively seeking new ownership in order to bring the team back for the 2019-2020 season.”
Originally one of the founding members in the old CHL as the Memphis RiverKings playing in the old Mid-South Coliseum, the team changed its name in 2007 to the Mississippi RiverKings seven seasons after a move to the Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, just south of Memphis.
The RiverKings had seen attendance dip sharply since joining the SPHL for the 2011 season, prior to moving to Southaven, the team had only seen attendance dip below 3500 fans a night in Memphis once, and had six with over 4000 fans a night before moving to Mississippi. Attendance was steady for a bit after the move, but dropped sharply to around 3200 fans a night in the final four seasons of the CHL. Since joining the SPHL, attendance only got worse, and peaked at just over 2900 fans in the first season, and was never above 2561 in the remaining six seasons, including 2325 in the final season, next to last in the league.
As noted in the brief release above, the league is looking for new owners to bring the team back in 2019, but that usually doesn’t end well and more often than not, does not happen. What is more likely to happen is somebody buys the dormant franchise and moves it to another southern city that wants a team.
If there is a silver-lining in this, it’s that the SPHL is back at an even 10 teams for the 2018-19 season, so there won’t be one team sitting out every week.
But it’s a big blow to the SPHL to lose one of its anchor tennants, and an even bigger blow to hockey fans in Memphis who had a team to cheer on for 26 seasons, and woke up to the news today that they no loner have a team.