While we’ve been hot on the trail working to bring you every bit of FHL expansion news we can, one thing has left us flummoxed: There is a confirmed second expansion team for this year (assuming one is Mentor, Ohio like we have discussed frequently on here), and we have NO IDEA where it might be.
But, in the last couple of days some leads have rolled in that got us searching, and here’s what we’ve come up with as potential locations for that second expansion team, and why it may or may not work in each location.
Evanston, IL: Honestly, this is as good of a guess on “northwest Midwest” as Ron and I could realistically agree on. The Robert Crown Center is currently undergoing its biggest renovation since its opening in 1974, and the renderings make the arena look like it will be the perfect size for the FHL.
The dilemma is that it’s not anticipated to finish until 2019, with construction just getting underway. However, it is not clear if this timeline is for the entire complex (which has a wide array of sports fields and arenas) or if this would include the hockey arena. There are multiple sheets at the RCR, which is always a preferable feature when considering expansion arenas. This city is also home to Northwestern University (notice “north west”), making this a direct demographic to market towards.
This is right in the heart of FHL country. Close to our presumed Battle Creek, but a good meeting space not too far from Port Huron and close to Danville. The population is nearly 80,000 so you’ve got a market immediately set there, and this would make it a very large FHL market, plus Northwestern doesn’t have hockey, so you don’t have to worry about losing fans to them. The community already has a strong hockey presence, which is one reason that we felt so strongly on Mentor, Ohio which honestly feels very similar.
A lot needs to go right, but if not this year, keep an eye for future expansion here.
Rostraver Township, PA: We were tipped off to “Try Pennsylvania” in terms of expansion consideration. We found a few that seem realistic. Tucked away in Belle Vernon sits the Rostraver Ice Garden, a FOUR TO SIX THOUSAND seat multi-purpose arena. Perhaps this rink name sounds familiar to you, and there’s a couple reasons for that. This was a former FHL failure site, having “two” teams play here: the SWPA Magic (who played one game before the FHL terminated their franchise for lack of financial commitment) in 2014, and the unbelievably bad Steel City Warriors who filled in to keep the team going for that season…and won three games in their 48 game season. During this awful season, the team pulled approximately 139 fans a game. The team ownership was apathetic, and built off the “if you build it…” philosophy, which clearly has never worked in the FHL.
The other reason this rink might sound familiar? Rostraver was the winner of Kraft’s Hockeyville 2017, giving the arena $150,000 for upgrades and renovation, as well as allowing the arena to host a preseason NHL game between hometown Pittsburgh Penguins (an hour north) and the St. Louis Blues, unfortunately that game never happened for a couple reasons, but the upgrades have since been done. Currently this rink is home to the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s California University Pennsylvania Vulcans club hockey team. What better place to bring a professional hockey team than a rink that’s gained this much publicity? The problem with Rostraver is obviously history and, ironically, is its size. At 4,000-6,000 seats, this is a behemoth in the FHL, and would immediately become the largest rink in the league. At this geographic location, it’s unrealistic for the SPHL to set up shop here, and at the size it’s way too small for the ECHL. The FHL could make its claim into welcoming bigger arenas in if a deal could be reached, but the lease would have to be a fantastic one for this to work. This is the type of team that could absolutely succeed if owned by Barry Soskin and operated either administratively by Scott Brand, or handled by a crew hired by the duo. Say what you will about Soskin, but his teams are the one that draw fans and have has the steadiest operation. Soskin has a track record of success in recent years, and with Winston-Salem, it shows he’s serious and is putting the right people in place.
Rostraver is an unbelievable gamble, but so was W-S, and now they’re the golden goose. The rink is there and a tenant is needed.
This city is such an anomaly. From our prospecting of its rink, The Ice Mine looks like it should seat about 2500, with bleachers on each side that go about 10-12 rows high. The town was even formerly home to an NAHL team in the Keystone Ice Miners, formerly the Port Huron Fighting Falcons, who lasted just one year due to ownership canceling their NAHL membership practically right before the team’s first season. The league operated the team for its single season, and they had actually a good year on the ice, making the playoffs. Fan support was, understandably, low. A forgetful 544 fans a night, which, all things considered wasn’t that bad given the situation. And who knows, maybe they take to pro hockey better if it’s marketed properly?
So what’s so confusing?
The fact an arena that size exists in a community where the two cities sharing the rink have a population that amounts to under 8,400. Seriously. You have to bring out at least 10% of the city to have a decent night attendance wise, and that’s a recipe for disaster. The rink itself is perfect, and being within an hour of Pittsburgh (to the east) could help, but this team would need some serious marketing. Future consideration market? This could absolutely serve as one and could even do well, but this town is too risky to just jump into.
Elmira, New York: I can’t name names out of respect for the person(s) who gave the tip, but have heard from inside sources that this is the team to keep an eye on for 2018-19, and it makes sense for a lot of reasons. Let’s go back to 2017. The Elimira Jackals fold after 17 seasons, seven in the UHL, 10 in the ECHL, and after the final season the rink and FHL had meetings to try and keep hockey in the city that were very public and tracked heavily by the media in Elmira.
If the league got Elmira, it would be massive for their credibility. It’s a proven hockey market, would be the nicest, largest rink in the league (3700 seats plus suites), and helps get them out east, sort of near Watertown and other eastern cities that might have eyed the league, but refrained due to the lack of other eastern teams at the moment.
The big issue: the rink lease was insane at last check. According to this story, the rink and potential owners were $10,000 a month apart on a lease, and negotiated into mid-July trying to iron out a deal. You read that right, not ten grand for the season. TEN GRAND A MONTH. In the FHL, you’d need the rink from October to March, at least, April if you make a playoff run, and you’re looking at a difference of up to $70k during negotiations. That $70k would alone would be by far the biggest lease in the budget-friendly league, we assume, and that’s $70k PLUS whatever the team initially offered the arena, so they might have been wanting near $100k for the FHL to play there last season. And in the FHL where the reported budget is around $500k, there’s no way that would work.
But the arena sat empty last year, and maybe, JUST MAYBE, the rink realized that, “hey, we should probably have some sort of team here so we have some sort of money coming in.” Combine that with the rumor that the 2nd team isn’t a locally owned one, and it seems like it could line up for a team in southern New York.
The only thing that gives me pause is last summer the local media was all over the story of the FHL and rink trying to reach an agreement, and this summer has been dead quiet on that front.
York, Pennsylvania: As we mentioned earlier, a comment on the site on yesterday’s story told us to look to Pennsylvania, so here’s our next stop there. York has a very nice rink, is 45 minutes or so from the next closest team in any sort of league in Hershey, and seems to fit the mold of what the FHL is looking for in a town: around 44,000 city and a county population of over 400,000.
The problem is that nice rink. While new, it only has permanent seating for 1000 people, but a friend of the site who lives near the region said that the arena hosted indoor football for a couple seasons and the team was able to put temporary seats behind the ends of the rink/field for that to help boost capacity, and it looked like crowds were solid at the indoor football games from the pictures we saw, and there’s an independent league baseball team in the area that has drawn very well over its history, so there would definitely be interest and sports success in the city’s history if they did get a team.
Maybe if they are able to put that temporary seating in for the first season they can get to that 1500 number the FHL says is the minimum, but I remain skeptical at the moment. And who knows, maybe it’s a future market to keep in mind if they figure out a way to get to 1500 or 2000 permanent seats.
Salisbury, Maryland: It’s not secret that this is one of the most coveted markets for potential expansion, not just for the FHL but potentially the SPHL as well due to its location. But it fits the mold for the FHL better, at least in my opinion, with the town around 33,000 and the county just under 100k, and with it being on the other side of the bay there in Maryland, there really isn’t much competition of any sort in the area for pro sports and is a long enough distance from DC and Baltimore that there should be local interest. But it might be out an island, far from the rest of the midwest teams, and far from Carolina as well, just sort of there.
The problem, like so many towns is arena. The Wicomico County Civic Center seems to fit the mold of what the FHL looks for in a rink, but might be too large at 5000 seats when configured for events that don’t use the floor area…but it doesn’t have ice. And no pictures that I’ve seen in searches have ever been of hockey, mainly basketball, wrestling and monster truck shows. Even after renovations in 2017, nothing I found mentioned ice making capabilities in the arena, and that’s a huge problem, obviously.
But the interest is there from the league, and while it may not be this year, I get the feeling this could be a future market for the league sooner rather than later, particularly if the FHL keeps heading east or adds more teams in the south in Virginia and North Carolina.