The topic on everyone’s brain this Federal Hockey League off-season has been expansion, from location speculation to rumors from every which way.
It’s no secret that the South/Southeastern United States has quickly grown into the hottest hockey hotbed since the West Coast some decades ago. With the wild success of teams from the NHL down to more recently the Carolina Thunderbirds, the arenas are open and the markets are prime for the picking.
Now, it becomes a race of who can strike oil with another Winston-Salem or Huntsville (SPHL), and leading the charge is the FHL.
Thanks to sources both anonymous and public, we’ve learned that the Federal Hockey League is ALL-IN on future expansion into the Mason-Dixon hockey land, and even staked attempted claims for this season – and last.
We learned on Thunderbirds’ GM Scott Brand’s radio show over a week ago that expansion has been planned more to the South, but we never really had an idea of how heavily.
“I have two teams, in the north, set to play next season”, Brand said “there are six teams in place for 2019-2020 including in the South”, later saying that a team would be ran by a “Thunderbirds Advisor”, referring what sounded like, to himself.
Whether wishful thinking or legitimate plausibility, we know the FHL has succeeded in the south with Winston-Salem, lead by Brand.
A source close to league reached out and gave us the EXACT details of how intensely the league has scouted the south – and where.
The FHL is going right towards the heart of SPHL territory, and even their sites.
“[The] FHL tried to go to Florence, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia but have failed another year due to availability of dates,” they said “They continue to be yearly targets.”
Florence was the first expansion team in the history of the SPHL, in the Pee Dee Cyclones. Pee Dee existed from 2005-07 before relocating to Winston-Salem as the Twin City Cyclones. The SPHL has not since returned to South Carolina, which is surprising considering they have teams in Georgia and North Carolina.
Savannah is the incredibly interesting as a consistent FHL target. As I said in our speculation piece on future SPHL expansion sites:
Savannah, Georgia might be the Southeast Coast’s greatest secret hockey hotbed. Heading into its 20th year, the Savannah Civic Center hosts the Savannah Tire Hockey Classic…It is INSANE and incredibly popular. Nearly capacity attendance in the Martin Luther King Arena in the Savannah Civic Center, which seats between “3,500 to 7,200”, which is perfect SPHL size.
This is an ambitious target for the FHL. Savannah is going to grow as a hockey city, and with a new 9,000 seat arena to be built by 2021, they could get in on the ground floor and grandfather themselves into the Civic Center.
Our source made sure to reiterate that “both Savannah and Florence were pursued this off-season.”
A different source close to the league confirmed these reports, and added two more teams to the pot, one of which was on the cusp.
Columbus, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida.
Both former SPHL cities, and Columbus nearly had an SPHL team last season. This is one of the most desired markets for the SPHL to bring back.
According to our source, “We actually had a group ready to go into Columbus this year, but the [Columbus Civic Center] didn’t want the FHL in there yet, because the SPHL is promising that they will find them owners for the building,” they said “It’s going to be hard [for the SPHL] to find a group to go in and maybe lose money in that market. It’s hard to work a $1.3 to $1.5 million budget.”
The reason the FHL would’ve worked?
“At 2000 [in] attendance in the SPHL, they were losing money because of big salaries,” our source said “The FHL at 2000 [in attendance] would make money because the lease there was a more favorable one.”
The source mentioned that if this were to happen, Jacksonville and even Louisiana would be considered for the future.
Back to our initial source, and further FHL pursuits.
Scott Brand and Co. on multiple occasions have expressed obvious interest in placing another team in North Carolina, and speculation has been wild as where. Turns out, most of it was right.
“Asheville is a heavy target at the Agricultural Center, not at the Civic Center,” our source said “Last season dates killed it this year, they will try again for 2019-20”
Asheville is an obvious target for professional hockey. The last time it hosted a team was in the inaugural year of the SPHL in the Asheville Aces, and FHL fans have been all over wanting it.
This isn’t all in N.C. though…
“I’ve been told that Battle Creek [which we’ve previously confirmed] and a city in N.C. that I cannot divulge is going to happen next season,” they said “That city is not Asheville, also.”
The league is “reportedly” trying for Asheville again next year.
Two final Southern cities were confirmed as targets. Anderson, South Carolina and in the Charleston area, West Virginia (which I will consider technically south).
Anderson is a city of 26,000 with a namesake college located within it, making for a demographic to market to.
Charleston is again one that everyone has speculated as vested interest. The area features the incredibly popular West Virginia University ACHA hockey team, and within the vicinity contains also Marshall ACHA hockey.
A different source in the league told us, “I know a group in Charleston was getting together to see how [their rink] could add a few seats [to be FHL size].
A mix of ambitious and expected target southern cities make the next off-season of the FHL an exciting one. We’re a long way from there, as the league still looks to add two teams this season as Brand confirmed, starting with Mentor, Ohio.
We have huge, exclusive news on the FHL’s first attempt at post-Carolina expansion, coming later today that you’ll want to read.