When a team in a higher hockey league dies, the Federal Prospects Hockey League moves in. We saw it Carolina, Elimra, Columbus, possibly the Memphis-area, and now it appears Bloomington, Illinois is next.
In a story from the Central Illinois newspaper, The Pantagraph, the league is set to announce a trio of neutral site games at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, with the games set to be play in the the new year from January to March. Which teams will be featured was not announced in the story, but given that the Danville Dashers are just an hour and 20 minutes down the road, it would be a safe bet to think that they will be one of the teams involved in all three games. There’s also the possibility that the league has seen how poorly the Battle Creek Rumble Bees have drawn so far, and opted to move some of their games to try and get bigger crowds.
But the bigger news that that comes in this quote from the story linked to above, right at the top:
The Federal Prospects Hockey League has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday at Grossinger Motors Arena that will include the league’s commissioner and “the ownership group of the new Bloomington team,” according to a press release Tuesday.
So yeah, there’s a team coming to Bloomington, which has no current team after the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the USHL folded following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.
No time for the press conference was given in the story, but we’ll keep you updated on if there’s a time announced, or a possible link to watch the press conference.
The FPHL has had interest in the the past in Bloomington, but it’s less than stellar hockey past had given the league pause about putting a team there after the Flying Aces left town. Reportedly, the market was in consideration for this season’s 10th team in the FPHL, before the league ultimately decided on Battle Creek, Michigan late in the summer. The league also reportedly wanted to let the market sit for a season to gauge interest, do research, and to see how badly the town missed hockey.
Geographically, Bloomington fits into the West division with an instant rival in Danville nearby, and then road trips that aren’t awful to other teams in Port Huron, Battle Creek, Mentor, and possibly even the rumored expansion team in Southaven, Mississippi, if they are indeed added to the league.
Grossinger Motors Arena would become one of the biggest, newest arenas in the FPHL, having been constructed in 2004 and holding about 7,000 seats for hockey. Prior hockey tenants of the arena include the Bloomington PrairieThunder who played from 2006 to 2011 across the UHL, IHL 2.0, and the CHL, before being renamed the Bloomington Blaze from 2011 to 2013 in the CHL. After that team folded, the SPHL version of the Bloomington Thunder came to town for just one season, before dropping to the the USHL and then rebarnding as the Central Illinois Flying Aces, as we mentioned above.
If a team is indeed announced, it’s a questionable move, because most minor league hockey fans do not have great things to say about Bloomington’s hockey history. The original PrairieThunder drew well in their one season in the UHL, averaging 3763 a night during the first season, but dropped by over one thousand fans a night in the IHL 2.0, averaging 2,698 in the last year of the IHL, then just 2603 in the last year of the PrairieThunder in the former CHL. A re-brand to the Blaze in the CHL saw them average about 2400 fans over two seasons, then one season as the Thunder brought in 2358 a night.
All of those numbers aren’t awful, but clearly not enough to keep going in pro hockey, and once the team switched to junior hockey, things went south in a hurry. The first two years of the Thunder in the USHL saw them bring in just over 2,000 a season, but the the last year of the Thunder, and two seasons as the Flying aces saw a MASSIVE drop in fans, averaging around 1,000 fans a night over those last three seasons.
Obviously, the Fed seems to be hoping that a return to pro hockey will be met with more enthusiasm than junior hockey was, and if they can bring in anywhere close to the 2,500 or so they had across the UHL, IHL, CHL, and SPHL, they it can be a very strong FPHL market, but it will be interesting to see how the city responds to the Fed, the lowest level of pro hockey in North America, after having teams in higher leagues like those mentioned above.
The other question becomes one of possible market saturation, with Danville down the road, and then Peoria of the SPHL just 40 minutes up the road, but with small-town minor league hockey, that should be enough of a buffer zone to keep fans in Bloomington in town to check out this new team.
But, one big plus if the team is in fact announced today is that it has a MAJOR head-start on past Fed teams in terms of time to put things together. They’ll have roughly 11 months to market, get a staff, hold tryouts, build a fanbase, and get corporate backing, a much much better timeframe than we’ve seen in Battle Creek and Mentor, who have been behind the 8-ball since their announcements that they were being added to the league.
So yeah, the Fed expands again, and picks up another former SPHL market in the process.