LOCAL REPORT: WRBL reports Columbus city council to consider FHL lease Tuesday

While the FHL world was set on fire this morning by the leak of the newest team, the Danbury Hat Tricks, news broke in Columbus, Georgia this morning courtesy of WRBL’s Chuck Williams, who dropped this bombshell that hockey is one step closer to returning to the Fountain City.

 

Here is a link to the full story on the WRBL website.

We’ll go over some of the highlights and notable points of the story here, including the biggest news, that according to Carolina Thunderbirdrs GM Scott Brand, the FHL has granted the team, so long as the lease is approved by the city, and estimates that if the city does grant the lease, there is a 95 percent chance that the yet-to-be-named team would take the ice this October.

The other notable thing from Chuck’s piece is that the lease is with Ignite Pro Hockey LLC, and it would be a FIVE YEAR lease, which does NOT mean that the team will end up playing all five years, but that if it is a success early on, that the market is FHL controlled for those years, barring a disaster.

If the lease is approved, the team would be allowed to begin working out of the Civic Center on May 1, according to Williams.

One other notable thing, and one we hadn’t heard from any of our sources in previous stories on this matter, was that had the SPHL gotten the team, they likely wouldn’t have taken the ice until the 2020 season, leaving fans in the city to wait another year without hockey.

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.

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 potential 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, due to operating budgets (we’ve been told as low as $350,000 for some teams) in the FHL that are far cheaper than the SPHL (lowest around $900,000 from our sources).

One concern though is the lack of other teams near Columbus. Winston-Salem is the next closest team (and there are no rumors of other southern teams being added this year) at around seven hours away, while the trips to the northern teams would all be 12+ hour trips, one way.

And, as we noted last week, it appears that if Columbus does come to fruition, they will be in a “West” division along with Carolina, Port Huron, Danville, and Mentor, which means a LOT of travel, and likely lots of games against Carolina as their “regional” rival.

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.

Another concern 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.

What we haven’t heard, from Williams or any of our sources close to the matter, is what the potential team’s name might be. Early on, when it was the SPHL wanting the city, it was reported that the ownership group wanted the Cottonmouths name, which is still active on the US Trademark search, but with the FHL’s budget conscious model, they likely aren’t shelling out to purchase that name.

We’ll keep you updated as more develops on this story, and please, give Chuck a follow for more updates as well.

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