The last we had heard about hockey potentially coming back to Columbus, Georgia was in late December, when a source with knowledge of southern expansion relayed to us that multiple groups were interested in putting a Federal Hockey League team in the Fountain City.
Today, that news was turned upside down when a source with close knowledge of the Columbus hockey situation said that the SPHL has re-taken the lead in what is now looking like a battle for the Columbus Civic Center, and one of the SPHL’s founding cities.
The source said that a possible return to the SPHL next season was looking more likely for the market, and that two SPHL groups were interested in placing a team in the CCC.
That same source added that the FHL is continuing to monitor the situation in Columbus, and could still end up with a team in the arena if the SPHL bids were to fall through for some reason.
“They basically said they want the SPHL in there,” the source said when asked why the FHL groups had fallen out of favor. “(They) were front-runners until recently when (the SPHL) threw their hat in the ring. They don’t want the FHL to tread in their territory. They see what WS has done.”
Bus League Hockey reached out to the higher-ups at the Columbus Civic Center for comment and more information on the matter, seeing if the SPHL had either reached out to the arena, or if the arena itself was actively pursuing a professional hockey team for this fall, and received this response from Arena Director, Jon Dorman:
“Thanks for the email. We have no comment at this time regarding professional hockey in Columbus.”
Now, that clearly does not mean that hockey is 100% coming back or anything close to it. But it’s also not a denial, and as we saw in our research and inquiries with Elmira and Mentor last off-season, no comment can often mean the arena is in talks, but just cannot legally say something or provide information, especially in a situation where rival leagues are both wanting the market.
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 had been no news of hockey returning to the city prior to December’s FHL rumor.
Over 13 seasons in the SPHL, the Cottonmouths averaged between 2,600 and 3,200 fans a night every season, solid numbers in the SPHL, except the last season, where they averaged 2,258 a night.
After the Burn application was rejected in 2017, the FHL was reportedly very close to moving into the market, but the arena held out and never finalized a deal.
According to our source in June 2018: “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.”
And that certainly appears to be the case with multiple groups with SPHL connections reportedly eyeing the market.
Now again, nothing is set in stone, but for now it appears that the SPHL has re-taken the lead on an expansion team in Columbus, Georgia, but the FHL cannot be ruled out yet. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this, but it appears for now that hockey is one step closer to returning to one of the south’s most storied hockey towns.