After two seasons without pro hockey in the Fountain City, there is talk that multiple groups are reportedly trying to bring hockey back to Columbus, Georgia next season in the Federal Hockey League.
We were tipped off about this news Friday afternoon, and reached out to a source within the FHL who confirmed that not only is the league interested in a team there, but so is a local group.
“We’ve been looking for some time. But there’s def (sic) a group that’s talking to them,” our source said. “…the guy in charge of it is very well-known there.”
According to that source, the FHL-led group has “personally” talked with the arena and/or city about a potential expansion team, but that because the other group is locally based, they have been getting further in their talks.
Our other tipster who initially got us started on this hunt reported that the local group is hoping to revive the Columbus Cottonmouths nickname, which had been the name of Columbus’ hockey teams for over 20 seasons across three leagues, and estimated that the chances of this local group making it happen were just under 50 percent at the moment, so nothing is written in stone at the moment.
The FHL wanting to expand into the south is certainly nothing new, as we noted in this piece from June, and sure enough, in that piece another source close to the league mentioned that Columbus was on the league’s radar, and were very close to putting a team in the Columbus Civic Center. From that article:
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.”
Columbus has been without hockey since 2017, when the Cottonmouths folded after 21 seasons across three leagues, and very nearly came back that same year under a new owner and a new name, the Columbus Burn, but the SPHL rejected the application, and since then there has been no news regarding hockey returning to the city until now.
Perhaps the Civic Center and city realized that an SPHL team isn’t possible in the city, or that the potential local owners aren’t willing to spend what an SPHL team costs, and suddenly the more budget-friendly FHL is a more attracitve, or more likely, the only option for them to have a team in the city.
Over 13 seasons in the SPHL, the Cottonmouths averaged between 2,600 and 3,200 fans a night every season except the last season, where they averaged 2,258 a night, solid numbers in the SPHL, and more than enough to stay solvent in the much cheaper FHL. But there are no guarantees that this potnential new franchise would bring in those types of numbers, though it is worth mentioning again that a team in the FHL would likely only need around 1,250 to 1,500 to stay solvent in the south.
With nearly 195,000 people in the city limits, and over 300,000 in the Columbus metro area, it would certainly be a LARGE market for the FHL, similar to that of Carolina, who is currently averaging around 2400 fans a night.
The big question becomes what happens to the rink where they would play, the Columbus Civic Center. As noted above, the first attempted team would have played in the Columbus Civic Center, and that would certainly be the case this go-round. Because while there is a second sheet of ice in Columbus that’s in a very nice, new facility, it’s only six rows of seats on one side of the ice, which is MAYBE 600 seats or so tops.
The problem is that the CCC seats nearly 7,500 for hockey, or, about 3,200 fans more than the largest crowd in FHL history, and realistically, about 4,000 more seats than any FHL team would ever need. Now, there are options for what you could do to the seats, including tarping them off or covering them with advertisements, like they did in Shreveport when the Mudbugs returned in the NAHL, because even a nice crowd of say 2,000 people would look sparse if they kept all 7,500 seats available.
The other thing to remember about this, is that if the FHL does put a team in Columbus, it opens even more doors for possible southern and western expansion. A team in Georgia could bring teams in Mississippi into play, another state that had been talked about in the past, and potentially even more Georgia teams in city’s like Savannah or Augusta.
Again, nothing is imminent as far as an announcement, or even that it is for sure going to happen, but with two different groups eyeing the market, it certainly does give hope to hockey fans in Columbus that a pro team might return sooner rather than later.