Rivermen franchise sold to Canucks…. what other AHL teams might move as well?

I was hoping to have trade deadline updates, but it’s been pretty slow today.  So instead let’s see if I can get all of this franchise movement straight….

According to the knowledgeable Dave Eminian in Peoria, moves are still in the works following the April 1 (not fools) announcement that the Rivermen had been sold.

The Vancouver Canucks have purchased the Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues, but it seems that the Canucks have no interest in moving their AHL affiliation from Chicago (where it is currently, and has been for two seasons) to Peoria, a couple of hours away.  Ideally, they want to move their team to Abbotsford, where Calgary’s franchise currently plays and has a long-term lease.

Minnesota had been working on a deal that would move their AHL team (currently the Houston Aeros) closer to them in Des Moines, Iowa.  That deal is allegedly on hold (or cancelled altogether) and Peoria is being considered as an another site.

Calgary wants to move their AHL franchise to Utica, NY, but first has to find a way out of their lease and agreements with the city of Abbotsford.   The other moves make a lot of sense, but moving an AHL team for a far-west team like Calgary to the middle of upstate New York doesn’t make sense to me.  Sure, travel would be a breeze for a team in Utica (Binghamton, Albany, Glen Falls, Syracuse and Rochester are all within a couple of hours of Utica…) but easy travel is a small part of operating a successful franchise, and call-ups would be a hassle. Ticket sales and sponsorship revenue is incredibly important to running a successful sports franchise, but if Calgary thinks there is enough potential in Utica, a city of 62,000 people, then I say go for it.  Clearly, the AHL has done well in small towns in New England for a long time, and expanding to major markets outside of that small region doesn’t seem to be a focus of the league.

As a fan of the sport of hockey, and a team outside of the north east, I’m disappointed that this kind of move would be approved by the league and the Board of Governors.  I don’t think that oversaturating New York and the north east with yet another team is going to help the AHL brand, or the league itself.  If the AHL brand is to grow and expand, it needs to be in recognizable markets with the potential for growth. In cities where there is real name recognition and the opportunity to reach a totally new audience.


Other odds and ends from the east (the AHL conference I admittedly don’t pay enough attention to) that also may affect franchise movement:

  • Any move of a western team (Abbotsford or Peoria) to New York means the Western Conference divisions will have to be re-worked again. Just for fun, can the Checkers move to the division with Rochester, Hamilton and Toronto? Maybe then Charlotte will actually play those teams.  Plus, four divisions and two conferences in four years would be a pretty epic stat, eh?
  • Allentown, PA will have a completed arena in 2014, and the plan is to move the Adirondak Phantoms out of Glen Falls, New York.
  • There’s plenty of chatter about the desire for the NY Rangers to move their team in Hartford to Bridgeport. I have no idea where the Sound Tigers/Islanders would go, but the rumors are out there.  There’s also the possibility of moving the Rangers team (currently the Whale) to Glen Falls.
  • I’m probably missing some of the chatter… what have you heard?

6 thoughts on “Rivermen franchise sold to Canucks…. what other AHL teams might move as well?

    1. I’d heard that too. Dave Eminian says they could also consider Peoria at this point. It makes sense… Peoria has a long-time established hockey market, a great rink and established fans. So does Des Moines, but Peoria might be easier.

  1. Hi, as Co-Chair of the Abbotsford Heat Booster Club, this topic is very interesting to us westerners. I agree with the point about flooding the New York area with franchises. I also agree that Peoria is a great market….a team should be there. In terms of the AHL having a presence out west, it won’t work with only an Abbotsford team. I recall in the “old days” of the defunct WHL which was a rival of the AHL in the 60’s, there were teams in SanDiego, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, etc. I think now is the time to re-establish the West Coast by adding or re-locating teams to places like Seattle, Portland, San Diego to make travel easier,etc.. There are markets and rivalries out west that could and should be revitalized. Your thoughts??

    1. First of all, thanks for reading and commenting!!!

      I guess as a sports business-minded fan, it makes me crazy that the AHL will allow the NY area to be even more saturated than it is, which in turn hurts the product of the entire league. I know it’s hard for teams out of the main region of the AHL (Abbotsford, Oklahoma City, Charlotte and St. John’s in particular) but it’s doable. And I thought that with this newer western franchises, they were doing the right thing in expanding. But Utica? Are you KIDDING ME? How does that work in any business model at all! Toronto doesn’t have a second NHL team right now, and while many will argue (and they are right) that it could support the fan base, the main reason it does NOT have a second team is there isn’t a corporate pool for sponsorships/box seats/etc. to support two franchises, and I have to agree with this. So how can there be enough sponsorship revenue in small NY markets to support six AHL teams. I find that hard to believe, and I live in a large US city with a lot of major corporate headquarters that do spend money on sports (and I’m talking real, significant dollars, not small sponsorship packages to get your name on a dasher board in a 2000 seat arena).

      I’ve only driven through Abbotsford, and it was summer and not hockey season, but the criticism I’ve heard about your market is the fans only come out when the Canucks AHL team is in town. Do you think there will be a significant and consistent boost in attendance if in fact Vancouver moves there team to Abbotsford?

      But it all just makes me wonder if the league would be better off with more regional leagues to balance out the travel. And yes, Seattle, Portland, California… all good options. Rivalries make the sport more fun, though in Charlotte, I haven’t seen rivalries boost ticket sales, but they do make the games more entertaining.

  2. Does it not make sense to have 2 teams in the Pacific Northwest? Why not Abbotsford and Vancouver or Abbotsford and Seattle. The Canucks could have their farm team just down the road…20 minutes, 40 minutes or a couple of hours.

    This region is hockey crazy and there are almost too many mid size Arenas that would make good homes.

  3. Very interesting blog. Always fun to speculate about the AHL’s newest “look”. The league announced today that the Iowa Wild will debut in the fall, which means that the Houston Aeros will be no more. I’ll miss them — 12 seasons in the AHL and about 7 in the old IHL before that. Des Moines is a good location for the Wild affiliate, but you may recall that the AHL failed to take hold there about 5-6 years ago. The Iowa Stars were the Dallas affiliate and the successor team, “the Iowa Chops” had a great logo that looked like an enraged pig.

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