All had been quiet on the SPHL expansion rumor mill this season, that is until late last night when the first tip we’d received about possible expansion was relayed to us. And from the sounds of it, the SPHL will continue its push into northern and Midwestern markets with one of the cities they are reportedly interested in.
According to a source within the SPHL, the league is hoping to add two expansion teams for next season, and reported that Iowa City, Iowa was specifically mentioned in recent comments.
“Apparently the SPHL is looking at two cities for expansion next year. One of which is Iowa City,” the source said. “Get the SP more in the Midwest. Iowa City was 100% name dropped specifically though.”
The source also went on to say that had “no clue” what the second city was, or what potential cities might be in consideration as the possible second SPHL expansion city.
Now, you may be wondering why the hell the SPHL would be considering Iowa City, or how Iowa City would get a team, well, look no further than the fact that the neighboring town of Coralville, literally right next to Iowa City, is building a 5,250 seat arena that has been openly searching for a hockey tennant.
The Xtream Arena will be a multi-purpose facility. A single full-size sheet of ice will support the demands of the University of Iowa Club Hockey Team and the Iowa City-Coralville youth hockey teams. Developers are also targeting a USHL or ECHL collaboration.
Now, the SPHL isn’t mentioned in there, but it’s likely that either the SPHL has inquired about the arena, which would be the perfect size for a team in the SPHL, or that the arena reached out to the SPHL after finding out the annual price tag that comes with an ECHL team.
Bus League Hockey reached out to Xtream Arena for comment and information about a potential SPHL team coming to the arena, but as of posting, the arena had not responded to emails or messages of Facebook.
The other problem: The arena isn’t slated to be completed until 2020, so even if the SPHL did award an expansion franchise to the city, it wouldn’t be able to play this next season, because there is not another suitable arena in the area that they could play in for that first year.
The real question though is how the Iowa City area fits into the SPHL. It’s just over an hour from the Quad City region, and 90 minutes from an AHL team in Des Moines, so it would instantly give the Storm another local rival other than the Peoria Rivermen, and then the potential team would be about two hours and 20 minutes from Peoria, giving them two teams nearby.
But, Coralville would become the northern- and western-most team in the SPHL, and would be REALLY far from more than two-thirds of the teams in the league. After Peoria, the next closest team would be in Evansville at more than six-and-a-half hours away. Then you would have some REALLY long trips to Fayetteville (15.5 hours) and Pensacola (14.75 hours), while every other team would be more than 10 hours away. It would be A LOT of travel for an Iowa City team outside of Quad City, Peoria, and Evansville. But as we have seen this season with Quad City, the SPHL would likely help them by playing the majority of their games against the three regional teams. And that of course implies that Evansville comes back, which is no sure thing given the way they’ve played and the number of fans they’ve brought in this season.
The other question is how does the Iowa City area compare to other SPHL cities, and could it support a team in the SPHL? Iowa City is a fast growing area, that recently broke past 75,000 people in the city limits, plus another 19,000 in the Coralville area, and more than 171,000 in the Iowa City metro area.
But, even with that growth, the city population would make it the second smallest town in the SPHL among the current teams, but keep in mind that the Pensacola metro area has over 500,000 people in it, more than three times that of Iowa City.
- Knoxville: 186,000 city population
- Birmingham: 211,000 city population
- Roanoke: 100,000 city population
- Macon: 114,000 city population
- Fayetteville: 210,000 city population
- Peoria: 113,000 city population
- Huntsville: 195,000 city population
- Evansville: 119,000 city population
- Quad City: 384,000 cities population
- Pensacola: 54,000 city population
It would also be the smallest metro area in the league, with Macon the next smallest at around 229,000 people in it, so it would be a challenge with a smaller population than the rest of the league, not to mention a USHL team in Ceder Rapids a half hour away, and then an AHL team roughly 90 minutes away.
But one other thing that Iowa City could have going for it: It has a major university in town in the University of Iowa, which is around 33,000 students on-campus, that it could draw from for potential fans, or at least on college night.
One other thing to keep in mind with the University of Iowa is that could be a detriment to a potential SPHL team: The arena will be used for the Hawkeye volleyball teams, and the school’s club hockey team. And the University of Iowa is also a school that has been talked about as a potential future D1 hockey program due to its proximity to so many USHL teams (to be clear, there is no rumor that an Iowa hockey team is on the way anytime soon), so if the Hawkeyes ever decided to add D1 hockey, you have to think Xtream Arena would be their home, and that team would potentially become the main tenant, which could force an SPHL team out, and no owner wants to move into a market thinking they could be booted in the future.
So the SPHL clearly has interest in Iowa City, and while nothing is set in stone, it’s an interesting place to keep an eye on for a few reasons. We’ll also keep digging to see what we can find on the potential second city, that even our source within the SPHL didn’t have a clue on.