Hockey: AHL-to-Thunder Bay talk could change Lakehead's outlook

The NHL signing a letter of intent to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to Ice Edge Holdings could (stress, could) have a ripple effect on CIS hockey.

One of Ice Edge's sops to Canadian fans, along with talk of playing some games in Saskatoon, is it would try to relocate the team's AHL affiliate in Thunder Bay (which you would recall is of comparable size with some AHL markets). Leith Dunick at TBNewswatch followed up today with a report:
"(Thunder Bay) City council on Monday will be presented a report detailing the possibility of the city building a $60-million, 5,600 seat facility within the next couple of years to replace the aging Fort William Gardens.

"The report shows that an AHL or Ontario Hockey League team could succeed in Thunder Bay, but must draw at least 4,300 fans a night. The Lakehead Thunderwolves, the main tenant at Fort William Gardens, currently draw in the 3,100 range."
It's not for yours truly to say how this would affect the Thunderwolves. For instance, if Thunder Bay builds an arena, would they stay there or at the "aging" Gardens until it becomes really obsolete?

It is early the game as far as Ice Edge being able to relocate the AHL team. If you read Make It Eight, you get the feeling they're the perfect mule for the corporate-welfare cartel. As our own Mike Aylward notes, Thunder Bay has a history of being fair-weather fans when it comes to junior and minor-league hockey teams, especially those whose schedules require a lot of midweek games.

Getting back to the point, it is hard to imagine that LU is jumping for joy at the prospect of a minor-league or major junior team moving into the city. Part of the selling point, if memory serves, was that its unique business model would work since there was little to no competition. (Junior hockey might not be much longer for North Bay now that CIS hockey has moved in, by the way.) This is a little like owning a store on Main Street and hearing that Wal-Mart is moving into town; you can either give up or rally.

AHL one step closer (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch)
Junior hockey in North Bay is strictly prohibited (Ken Pagan, North Bay Nugget)
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  1. I'm not sure how Thunder Bay would respond to an AHL team. The market is quite price sensitive. LU hockey charges $12 for a single game ticket. The other main sports teams in Thunder Bay (LU basketball and the Border Cats baseball team) charge even less for admission.

    Looking at ticket prices in Abbostford and Winnipeg, tickets for an AHL would likely be $20-25 for the worst seat, perhaps even more if they had to play in the Fort William Gardens for a year or so while a new arena is being built. Thunder Bay residents are not used to paying more than $10-15 for a regular season sporting event.

    For the record, the Fort William Gardens is almost 60 years old and is in quite rough shape. When it was renovated in 1994, council was told the renovations would add 15 years to its useful life. Well, 1994+15=2009. My guess is once a new arena is built, the Gardens meets the wrecking ball.

  2. AHL prices in Winnipeg are higher than other AHL cities. Abbotsford has to subsidize teams for travel, since their closest rival is in Winnipeg, and need to charge more. The US teams probably average $15 a ticket.

    (I should point out that for fans who buy 11 game packs the prices start at $154, or $14 per game, and go up to $32 per game. That is $8.50 off the walk-up price, a huge difference.)

    Thunder Bay would be in a decent location to the north of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Rockford and handy flights to Winnipeg, Toronto, and Hamilton.

    It would hurt Lakehead's attendance but it could be done. The AHL team would likely host weekend double-headers meaning one team would be home and the other away every weekend. I know I would like it if the Moose and Bisons always played on different weekends.

  3. I am not sure the chances of hamilton beeing around long term or even short term.There are rumors they may be moved as soon as next year.As for toronto yes they are the leafs farm team but i don't even think mlse thought support would be this low and it seems to be getting worse as each year comes.It would not shock me if this keeps getting worse they look at moving the marlies to a small ontario town where they would be the online show in town.

  4. This move wouldn't make a ton of sense given the fact that Phoenix's AHL affiliate is San Antonio, and given the recent expansion into the Austin area (Texas Stars), the three Texas AHL teams provide a nice circuit in that region. It would be a mistake to move this team out of San Antonio when they have established a solid following, and play out of a terrific building. Also, a move to T-Bay is contingent on a building being built, and as everyone knows those things don't happen overnight

  5. Marco Rosa fan12/14/2009 1:58 pm

    Nobody mentions the fact that the Spurs own enough of the Rampage to not let a move happen. A lot of NHL teams don't own their AHL affiliate. The Coyotes would have to buy out the Spurs, and from what I understand, the Spurs enjoy having the hockey team to fill an extra 40+ nights a year at AT&T Center, since they are in charge of event booking.

    The Marlies will be in Toronto for a while. There aren't too many good markets in Southern Ontario right now that don't have an OHL team. The Leafs main reason for moving the team to Ricoh is the logistics in having your prospects so close.

    Manitoba has by far some of the highest ticket prices in the AHL, and Winnipeg, being a great hockey city, will fill the lower bowl of MTS Centre for a lot of games. Prices like that likely wouldn't work in a smaller town. Hamilton doesn't even get great crowds despite having reasonable ticket prices in what some like to call "the greatest untapped hockey market in Canada".

    Since San Antonio likely wouldn't move and the Leafs are going to keep their affiliate, who would these guys buy? Edmonton looks like it will put its affiliate in Oklahoma City. New Jersey seems like it will stay in Lowell for a couple more years despite its attendance. Binghamton and Ottawa have a good connection right now. Norfolk may be a possibility, but there is no indication they will move. I doubt the other Texas teams will move and same goes with the midwest teams. Abbotsford will get a couple more years before the plug is pulled out there.

    So we no the following teams probably won't be moving:
    -Grand Rapids
    -Lake Erie

    So that leaves Lowell (which the Devils will want near the Eastern seaboard as long as they have a stake), Adirondack, which will likely move to Allentown, Hamilton, which may move to St. John's, Portland (which is hosting the ASG this year and should be safe), and Springfield.

    Springfield may be T-Bay's only shot, since the Oilers are likely leavig there and the team may be up for grabs at that point. But would the AHL try to get by without a team in its home town?

    So, I don't see the AHL going to Thunder Bay soon.

  6. I am not sure what will happen with bingo.You would think ottawa would like to have them a bit closer maybe cornwall maybe kingston.

  7. Kingston is Frontenacs country. Cornwall might be an option though. St John's could be on if the Oilers are subsidizing the team's flights.

    Selfishly, I would like to see Thunder Bay as an OUA market with North Bay. Lakehead & Nipissing draw the best fan numbers with 2975 & 2306 respectively.