Markets In The Market For Minor League Hockey

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During the podcast, I had mentioned that Biloxi, Mississippi and the people of Southern Mississippi Hockey LLC missed the deadline to get an expansion team into the SPHL for the 2015-16 season. While that might be a good thing in terms of not having to throw together an entire franchise in a limited amount of time– it does bring up the question of what areas could be prime for expansion.

There are some issues with it comes to that, though. The AHL pretty much as their affiliates set, baring a western expansion in the 2016-17 season, though it seems that most teams have multi-year deals locked up already. The ECHL has mentioned they want to cap their membership at 30 teams, and with Worcester and Oklahoma City out there for the picking– you have to think they will be next and last for the ECHL. The SPHL would need either a link that wouldn’t be too far from Peoria or the rest of the membership– but odds are those would be few and far between.

All that aside– let’s speculate for some place; Worcester and OKC aside.

When the CHL was still a thing, there was a possible chance for Casper, Wyoming to join that league– at least they had thought. The Casper Event Center put in an ice floor for the possibility to lure a team out there. While it would be a great place for the ECHL to put a team to have a better representation and better link to the western US; the odds of them putting a team or have the appeal for the ECHL is very slim with better, more established markets out there. It would probably be more likely to have a NAHL or NA3HL team in the US Junior system to be there.

An old market that could creep it’s way into an expansion role could be Atlantic City. They had the ECHL’s Boardwalk Bullies for four seasons and have hosted games for the Albany Devils in the past years with some very solid turn outs at the Boardwalk Hall. Of course, they could very well be a relocation destination over expansion.

Reno, Nevada has been on the “Future Markets” of the ECHL website for years now and there has been no movement one way or another from them to actually make a move. You’d have to think that their fate would be dependent on getting an owner who is serious about putting a team there and if Las Vegas gets a NHL team in their future.

Now, I said I wouldn’t talk about Worcester….but I kind of fibbed. It seems that my home state of Maryland and the County of Worcester is looking into building an arena to bring a minor league team there. Hat Trick Consulting have said it would be a great place to have a team and a new arena, which is usually mostly known for summer vacation. They have proposed a 6,200-seat arena and the thought is to bring in an ECHL team, but will most likely fit with the SPHL more likely– but both would be hard sells. The ECHL is very limited in teams, despite having Norfolk and the Pennsylvania teams not too far by. That is, of course, if the Maryland Stadium Authority says it’s a viable idea.

You would also have to think that if Maryland would get a team, Richmond, Virginia would be looking to get a spot because they would be close compatriots. Richmond hasn’t really given a hint of coming back into the minor league circle after the Richmond Renegades of the SPHL ceased operations in 2009. Granted, Richmond has had a strong minor league showing in the past; but that’s not to say that people will remember those times or actually want to have hockey back that’s isn’t of the ECHL variety they had from 1990 until 2003. The same could be said about the market in Roanoke, Virginia; who last had a team in the United Hockey League in 2004-05, but couldn’t draw the same numbers as their ECHL predecessors in the Roanoke Express. However, if Richmond could get something going; you can bet that Roanoke– their fiercest rivals– would want to be right there with them to try and rekindle not only a solid minor league turf war– but also revitalize pro hockey in Virginia.

When all is said and done, this is just spitballing ideas about what possible leagues could do. With the leagues being as handcuffed as they are when it comes to actually going through with expansions really hinders any kind of process, but it’s something that could spark what little debate there is to be had. For all intents and purposes, these markets would most likely be a relocation scenario over expansion. Not only that, but when you look at some of the areas mentioned– it could be up to the SPHL to actually take the reigns in terms of finding markets to be able to grown their brand a bit more.

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