***Please keep in mind that almost none of this is fact, or even rumor, but just a look at the possibilities that could open up for the FHL if the Columbus rumors we reported last week turn out to be true.***
Last week the southern hockey world was set ablaze when we reported that multiple groups were reportedly trying to put a FHL team in Columbus, Georgia, and since that story was posted, we’ve seen a ton of questions, comments, concerns, and excitement about the possibility of hockey returning to the city.
And we’re here to try to address the questions that have come up since last week, because as always, there is a LOT more to this just a team possibly ending up in Columbus.
The next closest team is 7 hours away, why would the FHL want a team in Columbus?
To answer this question we have to back to last year and the off-season for the FHL.
During a radio show in Winson-Salem over the summer, Carolina Thunderbirds GM Scott Brand said that the league had as many as six teams lined up for expansion and the start of the 2019 season, and said there were two in the north, and FOUR in the south. Now, we can share this little nugget that at least one of those teams is no longer happening, at least not in 2019, but that still leaves us with up to FIVE expansion teams.
And let’s focus on the part of Brand’s comments where he mentioned that up to four of them could be in the south. It’s no secret the FHL wants more teams in the south, both to get a foot into emerging hockey markets and to have teams closer to the Carolina Thunderbirds.
At around the same time Brand made those comments, another source close to the league told us there would “for sure” be another team in North Carolina by 2019 that WASN’T Asheville, North Carolina. There had also been talk of a team possibly in South Carolina, and the league had been sniffing around both Georgia and Alabama in the past, so a team in Columbus really isn’t all that wild given all of the previous rumors that have surfaced.
Immediately after the Columbus story was posted, people wondered how the team would make it with all the travel that it would require with 12+ hour trips to almost every northern team.
So what does all that mean?
It means that if we were betting people, I would plan on lots of southern expansion in the south this coming off-season for the FHL. Is Columbus one of those four teams that Brand mentioned? We don’t know, but when there is talk of that many teams joining up in the south, Suddenly a team in Columbus starts to make a whole lot more sense.
Because yes, just adding one team in Columbus, Georgia makes absolutely no sense. But if you get Columbus and add at least two others in the south, hypothetically, let’s just say for fun that there’s one in North Carolina, and one in Florence, South Carolina (to be clear, neither of those teams have been announced or even confirmed rumors) and then Columbus, and suddenly you have four southern teams that are all seven hours or less away, and a decent start to a FHL southern division.
Why would new Columbus owners pick the FHL over a return to the SPHL?
We’ve been told that a team in the SPHL can run anywhere from $900k up to $1.5mm per season to run, while most teams in the FHL try to keep things around $500k, and maybe a little more for the bigger teams like Elmira and Carolina.
In minor league sports where profit margins are razor-thin, cutting your operating costs in half starts to look pretty appealing to potential owners, as well as the allure of cheaper expansion fees.
Columbus over its hockey lifetime had good crowds that ranged from 2600 to 3200, and then dipped to 2258 a night in the last season when the team struggled and the writing was on the wall that they were on the way out. So if the FHL comes in and even brings in half of that 2600 to 3200 number, let’s say they do 1500 a night, they are likely making money in the much cheaper FHL, versus needing 2500 or so a night in the SPHL just to break even.
And that cheaper cost for a team likely gets passed onto the fans, where ticket prices would likely be cheaper than they were in the SPHL.
During the Cottonmouths’ final season, ticket prices were as follows for single game tickets:
Upper Level: $14
Lower Level: $19
Ice Level: $26
That’s kind of pricey, even in the SPHL.
But for comparison, here’s the posted ticket prices for Carolina in the FHL, and what is probably a good baseline of what you could expect in Columbus for the FHL. Keep in mind that Carolina plays in a rink half the size of Columbus as well.
White (Ends/Corners), similar to Columbus Upper Level: $10
Gold (Center Ice Upper): $12
Red (Lower Level): $14
Blue (Front Row Glass): $25
Basically, you can expect a savings of anywhere from $4 a ticket to get in the door, to $12 a ticket to sit in prime areas. And for a family of four, a savings of up to $48 a night to go see a hockey game is pretty appealing, and may even bring more fans in because it is more affordable.
Now, maybe we get a situation like what happened in Birmingham and a SPHL ownership group finds out all the goings on of this potential FHL team and jumps into the fray to bring one of the SPHL’s original franchises back to the league, but for now there have been no rumors of an SPHL coming back to the city, even after the league said it was trying to find new owners following the demise of the Cottonmouths in 2017, but there’s still plenty of time for that to happen.
What might in mean for future southern expansion?
While the FHL had been rumored to be looking in Alabama and Georgia over the past off-seasons, there was also talk that the league had eyes on Mississippi and other former markets that had teams there, including Tupelo and Biloxi, Mississippi.
As it stands right now, there’s no way that would happen because with the closest current team in Carolina it would mean trips of around 10 and 13 hours for each city. But Columbus is about four and a half from each of those cities, and realistically brings them into play.
And then it also possibly opens doors to Florida and previous hockey markets, like Tallahassee three hours south of Columbus.
Again, none of these teams are confirmed or even anything more than a small rumor, but a team in Columbus suddenly serves as the middle ground for teams in North and South Carolina, and possible western or southern expansion in Mississippi or Florida becomes more realistic when there are other teams within five hours.
Could it mean divisions in the FHL?
Possibly, and a lot of that depends on the stability of the northern teams, as well as how many expansion teams the FHL can add in the south, but it would be very appealing to the current FHL teams if only to cut down a bit on travel costs.
Let’s for the moment assume that all six teams are coming back next year, which is never a guarantee in the FHL. But if that happens and all six teams are back, you’d have five in the north in Danville, Elmira, Port Huron, Mentor, and Watertown.
If you had no expansion teams in the north, then you would need the previously mentioned four southern expansion teams in the south to have even divisions with five teams in each. Hypothetically, let’s say our South Division is Carolina, Columbus, Asheville, Florence, and Wilmington.
The big appeal of this is that the large majority of you schedule now becomes regional, creating rivalries AND cutting down on travel trips, because let’s be real, it can’t be fun for any of the northern teams to have to make 4-5 trips a year to Carolina, and vice versa.
So maybe you get a schedule of one home and road two-game series against each non-divisional team, which is 20 games, then you play the remaining 40 games against the other four teams in your division, 10 games against each team, five home and five away, and suddenly you have an even, 60 game schedule. And for the players, take the Top-4 in each division, a 3-game opening round, 3-game conference final, and 5-game final.
Now again, none of this is for sure happening, and a lot of it is not even rumored to be happening, but a team in Columbus opens a lot of new avenues and ideas for the FHL.
For us, the Columbus rumor at worst means that there are more southern teams on the way, and the potential groups in Columbus may just be waiting for more expansion confirmation in the south before jumping on board.