Watertown Wolves ink arena deal

With less than two months until the ninth season of the Federal Hockey League, one odd thing was that the defending champion Watertown Wolves were without a lease.

Well, Tuesday night the team and the Watertown city council reached a one-year deal for the Wolves to continue playing at the Watertown Arena, and officially securing six teams for the FHL season.

According to WWNY, the Wolves will save about $6,500 compared to last season’s lease, paying the city $31,460 for the season, which can run through late April if the team makes a deep playoff run like it did last season. The Wolves first home game is scheduled for November 2 against last season’s regular season champions, and the team the Wolves defeated for the Commissioner’s Cup, the Port Huron Prowlers.

By inking the one-year deal, the Wolves avoid the fate of becoming the first team in FHL history to win the Commissioner’s Cup and fold during the ensuing off-season. In fact, in of the first eight FHL champions, only once did a champion not return to their home rink the next season, in 2013-14 when the New Jersey Outlaws moved to Pennsylvania before folding mid-season.

One interesting note from that story by WWNY, is it sounds like the city’s mayor, Joe Butler, doesn’t sound exactly thrilled by the deal the two sides were able to come to, saying, emphasis mine, that the agreement is, “not what would have liked, but I’d rather have this than the Wolves be absent in the city of Watertown.”

There’s a few ways to read into that remark, the first of which makes it sound like the mayor thinks the city is kind of getting robbed on this deal, which, and I don’t know the specifics of every other team in the FHL, but my guess is that $31,000+ for a season of hockey in a building like the Watertown Arena is probably on the high side for a lease, especially in the FHL. But you have to keep in mind that the Wolves admitted they lost money last season (part of that could be attributed to extended travel after Cornwall folded), and the team likely did need to have some savings on the lease, so the number they settled on seems more than fair to me, regardless of the mayor’s comment.

But the second half of that comment, “I’d rather have this than the Wolves be absent the city of Watertown,” implies that he is aware the team has an economic impact on the city, and one that goes beyond the $31,460 that the team is paying the city to use the rink.

Dating back to the days of the Watertown Privateers, the arena has seen, according to HockeyDB, an average of 731, 714, 768, and 690 fans a night at games over the past four seasons where there was a team. Not massive numbers, but solid for the FHL, and still 700+ people a night that are coming to the arena to buy concessions and merchandise, or going to restaurants and bars near the arena to spend money before or after the game. So the Wolves impact on the city goes beyond just being a hockey team, and the mayor seems to recognize that with his words, and recognized that if the Wolves did go away, suddenly the arena and other businesses are out a lot of money.

Finally, the other thing to keep in mind about this, is that it is just a one-year deal, as most teams in the FHL ink, so there is a strong possibility that this dance could happen again come next off-season. In my opinion, that seems like it could be likely given that the team isn’t locally owned, the fact that attendance dipped to the lowest in the team’s history last season, and as we mention earlier, the fact that the team owner, FHL Commissioner Don Kirnan, admitted that the team lost quite a bit of money last season. If at least one of things, and likely two, doesn’t turn around or change this season, it could bring into play the issue we had speculated about way  back in May, and that’s if the Wolves franchise could possibly leave. Because it is a business and owners aren’t going to continue to dump money into a team that isn’t profitable and faces a possibly dwindling fan base.

Regardless, Tuesday’s announcement was good news for hockey fans in Watertown, and good news for the FHL that their defending champions and one of the longest lasting teams in league history, will be back for at least one more season.

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