With the FPHL and SPHL seasons now underway, it isn’t exactly the hottest time of the year for expansion rumors and gossip.
Well, that all went out the window when the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, former home of the ECHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves and SPHL Mississippi Surge, posted the following picture and update on the arena’s Facebook page yesterday:
That post of course got people talking for two reasons: First, why would an arena update its scoreboard to a new LED one without having a permanent tenant to use it? And second, those are hockey dasher boards in the bottom, are they planning to have hockey back soon?
A quick refresher, Biloxi and the Gulf Coast Coliseum has been probably the most-talked about expansion/relocation market in SPHL and FPHL circles, outside of Columbus, Georgia. And towards the end of last season there were rumors from a number of places about hockey possibly coming back to the arena, that all turned out to be nothing at the time.
One rumor on Twitter that was quickly shot down, was the a “celebrity” owner was buying the dormant Mississippi RiverKings franchise and relocating them to Biloxi. That turned out to not be anywhere close to true at all. Another rumor was from a man who claimed he was part of an ownership group that was “very close” to bringing a team to Biloxi, but ultimately did not for this season. And after chatting with a few people in the hockey world, sources in both the FPHL and SPHL confirmed that the man who reached out to us is and has been involved with hockey ownership groups before, but he did not carry the best reputation with him.
But where there is smoke, there is usually fire. After both of those rumors made the rounds last year, we straight up asked the arena if there was any truth to them or if there was interest in bringing hockey back. They didn’t respond.
Well, with the Facebook post above getting people talking, we decided to reach out to the arena’s Executive Director, a man named Matt McDonnell, who responded within minutes this morning with the follow exchange:
If you’re having trouble reading that, here is his response to our question about if the new LED boards mean the return of hockey, or any team, to the arena.
At this time we don’t have a commitment to bring hockey back. We are only interested in bringing a team if the ownership is committed to a minimum of 3 years and a substantial investment in marketing the team. The vast majority of interest was not able to meet that requirement. We are replacing old technology and making other improvements to position ourselves for future business when the right opportunity comes our way.
So let’s break this down line by line.
“At this time we don’t have a commitment to bring hockey back.” Which to us means, they have been looking, but at the current moment don’t have a team secured to come to the arena.
Then it gets juicy with the parameters of what they expect of a team AND the one line that let’s us know the arena has had groups interested in putting a hockey team back in the arena.
“We are only interested in bringing a team if the ownership is committed to a minimum of 3 years and a substantial investment in marketing the team. The vast majority of interest was not able to meet that requirement.”
So if a team does come to the Gulf Coliseum, it would have to remain there for three years, and make a big commitment to marketing the team, and therefore the arena, which makes sense because you don’t want a team to show up for a season and then bolt if things aren’t working.
But the bigger line is that the “vast majority of interest was not able to meet that requirement.”
That is McDonnell straight up admitting that multiple groups, and possibly a large number, (we don’t know exactly how many as he did not divulge that information) have in fact tried to claim the arena for their team. That one little line is a massive piece of information, because it confirms that the arena also wants hockey back at it, but is being very picky and particular with who could end up getting the arena. And after how the SPHL’s Surge went, you can’t really blame them for that.
Lastly, it sounds like they’re making this update to the scoreboard so that if/when a team does come, they have the best equipment possible to help the team however they can, and it may even help bring a team there knowing they will have some of the best resources in whatever league they may be part of.
Now, this doesn’t guarantee that a team is coming back to Biloxi any time soon, but it certainly does give hope to the region. Because last we knew, the SPHL did have its eyes on two expansion teams, and Mississippi perfectly fits in the SPHL’s geographic footprint, with four current teams teams about six hours away, or less, including Pensacola being less than two hours away.
There is also the possibility that the rink could be a prime relocation candidate, and a quick look at the SPHL attendance stats should tell you who that could be.
Those relocation flames get fanned ever higher when you consider that Macon was one of the rumored teams looking to relocate to Columbus this past off-season, but the team quickly shot that down when we asked about it with the response of, “We are still in contract with the Macon Centreplex through the 2019-20 season, and as such will not be relocating.”
That means after this season the Macon Mayhem are essentially free agents. And since that response, there have been no posts from the team or arena about signing a lease extension to keep the team there. And when you’re only averaging only 1,300 fans a night (reportedly), you can’t help but wonder if Macon has eyes on Mississippi.
So to recap all this, the Mississippi Coast Coliseum is updating its scoreboard and still has hockey dasher boards. And while they don’t have a hockey commitment at the moment, the arena has confirmed that multiple groups had reached out to them about putting a team there, but couldn’t meet the arena’s demands. It’s worth keeping an eye on, but from all indications, we could see hockey back in Biloxi sooner rather than later.