Full Disclosure: The staff at Bus League Hockey was initially involved in the IHL back around February for roughly a month, with one remaining involved until this week, but backed out, and in one instance were “fired” from the league when it became clear that this was not something we wanted to be part of or associated with.
Before we get into the meat of this story, let us just say this: That the Interstate Hockey League is a good idea, and something that could work if it had proper funding and the right hockey minds behind it.
Unfortunately, as summer rolls along and hockey season draws closer, it appears that the IHL has neither of those things at the moment, and could faces a very real possibility of not playing, making it the second time in two years that the league has failed to launch after a lot of hype and talk.
We as a staff at Bus League Hockey have decided this will be our last post addressing the IHL until they either fold, or actually play games.
Let it also be known that prior to this post we had not said a single negative word on the site or our social media platforms about the league. We did not want it on us if the league potentially failed. But we cannot sit here and be quiet any long with what Drake MacKenzie has done, and said, and due to what numerous people have reached out to us with.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Interstate Hockey League, it has aimed to be something along the lines of Senior AAA hockey, hoping to get accomplished players to play full-contact hockey, while sticking within the state of Michigan to start. In 2018 the league attempted to launch with six teams, but ran into issues that were no fault of their own (one of the leagues’s co-founders passed away), and rebooted to try again in 2019.
Since then, the league has boasted that it will be playing with 12 teams, but no less than eight (now nine as of late Wednesday) of those teams have either since switched cities or names for one reason or another, and then four teams will supposedly be sharing one rink in Fraser. All of this has happened while the league’s Commissioner, Drake MacKenzie, has boasted online about how the IHL is better than the Federal Prospects Hockey League despite the IHL never playing a game, and openly called out the league and its teams, most notably the Port Huron Prowlers.
To cap all this off, on July 24’s IHL show on whatever local radio station they broadcast on, MacKenzie accused Bus League Hockey of sending people to the Faster Horses Music Festival and taking pictures of him there, while also accusing a former league employee of being a spy for the Federal Prospects Hockey League. Please keep in mind that none of our writers live in Michigan, but sure, we sent somebody to a music festival that costs upwards of $200 to get in, just so we could take pictures of Drake MacKenzie.
We were first alerted that the IHL may be in financial trouble back in mid-June when a source that was formerly close to the league shared images with us of Commissioner MacKenzie straight up saying that the league had around two weeks left unless they got a serious cash influx.
What followed from there was some members of the league asking questions about where the money the league had on-hand to that point had went. That money the league had raised was around $15,000 from player registration fees for tryout camps. Around 150 player signed up for the Lansing tryout camp at $100 per player.
Here is the exchange that took place the same day as MacKenzie saying that the league had roughly two weeks left to try and find money.
Some of the information will be repeated over multiple screenshots, but is shown here to show the exact response that was given to questions or statements about where the league’s money went.
The most damning statement in that thread comes in the third picture, where MacKenzie straight-up says he took the league’s money that was raised by players paying to tryout, and spending on ice for the league to use at those tryouts, which is fine, and then using what he estimates as $6-7k on driving around, presumably to the rinks the league hopes to play in, which again, fine. And then “living” as he put it. Basically taking the league’s money so he can afford rent, or food, or whatever else that is not directly or even indirectly related to the league.
Keep in mind that player registrations opened in April, meaning that he spend about $2,000 each month since player registrations opened up. We have actual jobs here at BLH, and our monthly expenses don’t exceed $2,000 a month, and we have rent, car payments, student loans, and whatever else we need to pay every month.
The league’s main camp was set to be in Lansing on July 13, and suddenly about a week before was moved to Fraser, the only rink where there is any proof that the IHL is doing anything but taking player money for tryouts.
Back in June we reached out to a number of rinks, and no less than four at the time said the league had NOT signed leases with their rinks, but did have verbal agreements.
The Rink in Battle Creek said they could not comment on a team on contract until August, while three rinks, the The Bay County Civic Arena in Bay City, the Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace, and Flint Iceland Arenas all confirmed to BLH either through Facebook or by phone that they had NOT received a signed contract from the IHL.
Since then, the only proof anyone has seen of any leases being signed was a picture of Drake signing the lease at the Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace.
In addition to the rinks being left out in the cold, multiple people have reached out to BLH over the past week, saying they had been left without pay, causing them to leave the league, even with being owed money.
One source said they were asked to help run and market a team in a market that is no long among the league’s 12 teams, and after about 10 days and nearly $600 in owed compensation, broke ties with the league and Drake.
Since all this has gone down, the league and its teams have continued to try and hire new people to bring on board, and continued to try and sell tickets and sponsorship opportunities for a league they themselves admit may not happen, and at rinks where they don’t hold a formal lease yet.
The St. Ignace post is especially telling, because since then, last night (July 24) in fact, MacKenzie admitted the rinks will not be getting those new video boards he promised this season. A bit of news that wasn’t known by some rinks, including the one in Flint.
And then roughly two hours after that show ended, The Rink in Battle Creek announced they were done with the IHL, and would solely be home to the FPHL’s Battle Creek Rumble Bees.
This update came after MacKenzie and the IHL swore up and down that Battle Creek was committed to the IHL and that there was no way the Federal Prospects Hockey League would play there.
Oh and then Drake threatened the President/GM, and one of the most influential people in low-pro hockey, Scott Brand, after it was announced that Battle Creek would be hosting a FPHL team.
That was dated Sunday. On Tuesday the FPHL did indeed announce its team in Battle Creek, and then Wednesday the IHL was told to go kick rocks by by The Rink in Battle Creek. How’s that war going, Drake?
In addition to that update, Flint’s Iceland Arena contacted Bus League Hockey this morning (July 25) and said that the league does not have a signed lease with them. The rink did say they had dates set aside for 16 home games, but that they needed to be paid up front, and that they had yet to see a dime from the league. The arena says the IHL has until the end of August to make payment before the spots for IHL games are made available again to whoever may want them.
As if that wasn’t enough, numerous people who were involved with the league early on have left or were “fired” depending on who you talked to, including the General Manager of the Lansing Capitals team, who moved to Lansing from New York to be part of this start-up league…and got two meals for his troubles before being “fired” by MacKenzie.
Those two former IHL members then took to Facebook within a matter of hours to air their grievances with the league and Drake.
On Tuesday the President of the Holland Beacons team commented, “Woo” on the Battle Creek Rumble Bees announcement on Facebook, and was fired by MacKenzie.
And through all this, MacKenzie can’t keep his numbers straight on how much he actually needs to make this happen. In a chat with him last month when we confronted him with much of this story, he said he needed around $300k to make it happen.
Only to turn around and tell the Detroit News, in a story we will not link to, that he actually needs upwards of $750k to operate.
And now it’s time for a math lesson, one that is not going to be fun to learn for potential players in this league.
On the IHL’s website (that somehow cost $750 according to Drake on his radio show), the openly advertise that players in the IHL will be making MORE than players in the FPHL. Here’s a look at that graph:
So the IHL expects that each player will make $175 a week playing in this league, and that the players will be based on how many tickets are sold. The league has said players will receive 80% of the gate to split amongst themselves.
The IHL is advertising 20 players per team, and you have to figure that the gate pays for each team’s players, so we have 40 players to pay.
A ticket to this stuff, from what we’ve seen on team pages, will roughly be around $7 a seat.
So $175 a week times 40 players, $175×40 = $7000, so the league needs to make $7000 per weekend series for players to get paid $175 a week like they are advertising. But remember that the league takes 20% of gate sales, so they need to raise roughly $8,800 every weekend to pay players that mark.
$8,800 divided by seven (our average ticket price) is 1,257 tickets sold each weekend. So now take 1,257 and divide it by two, since there will reportedly be two games each weekend and you get 628.
So the IHL at its current prices needs to sell 628 tickets at $7 a piece to pay these players the promised $175 a week.
And that’s all they get, if they even hit that 628 mark. They aren’t paying for player housing like the FPHL is, or player meals, and while they claim they are paying for SOME equipment, the FPHL gives you close to full gear. And how are these IHL players getting to the road games? It sure isn’t charter buses, which can cost upwards of $10,000 for a weekend rental. And where do these teams plan to stay when they have to make a trip from metro Detroit up to Alpena, Muskegon, or St. Ignace?
To give you an idea of how unrealistic 628 tickets to this stuff is: the current team with the most Facebook likes is the St. Clair Gulls with 608. So the IHL needs everyone of those people to show up, and 20 of them to bring a friend.
Bring a friend to watch, from what we have seen in all the videos from scrimmages and tryouts, appears to be nothing more than men’s league hockey that allows hitting and fighting.
To compare that to the FHPL, the Port Huron Prowlers have 5,794 likes, and averaged a reported 835 fans per game last season.
The Mentor Ice Breakrs have 2,694 likes and were last in the FPHL at 374 fans a night.
It’s really not hard to see the writing on the wall for this: Unless something DRASTICALLY changes, you aren’t getting close to 628 paying fans per game to show up to this stuff, and the players aren’t going to come close to getting $175 a week like the IHL is advertising. How many players are willing to stick around when there are 100 people in the building and the 40 players have to split like $500, roughly about $15 a player?
And there’s what we know about the IHL and felt we had to share with people.
Again, we think this league is a good idea and something that could be a great thing to help grassroots hockey in Michigan, but it absolutely has the wrong person running it, who at every turn has burned bridges, tried to start fights, and basically taken the money and ran.
Do what you want when it comes to playing or investing in the IHL, but don’t say we didn’t try to warn you if this whole thing goes sideways and never plays.