NAHL Expansion Relocation And Franchise Sales

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NAHL Expansion, Relocation and Franchise Sales

As an update to a series of articles on TJHN new information is starting to surface on NAHL expansion, relocation, and franchises that have been long rumored to be for sale.

Wenatchee Wild – Sources within the organization have informed TJHN that the franchise is for sale and that they are not likely to return to the NAHL. Sources have also stated that the ownership group will seek to purchase a BCHL franchise in Canada while exploring the possibility of maintaining a Tier III franchise in Wenatchee. USA Hockey denied a move to the BCHL for Wenatchee, a team leading the NAHL in attendance.

New Mexico Mustangs – Sources citing the Mustangs relocation to North Richland Hills Texas have now stated that the deal is not yet done. Much is up in the air until the Central Hockey League can figure out who is returning, if anyone, for the 2012-2013 season. The potential loss of Wenatchee must be a factor in the decision making process for New Mexico.

Traverse City North Stars – TJHN has learned that a sale is imminent for the franchise, one that will keep the franchise in Traverse City for at least one more season. With attendance in Traverse City plumeting from nearly 900 a night in 2005-2006 to an inflated average of 450 in the 2011-2012 season, something needs to change. While placing a solid team on the ice, the community has not responded to the organization, perhaps a change in ownership and management will help restore the franchises support at the gate.

Chicago Hitmen – Troubled for its two seasons in the NAHL, Chicago is on the ropes and will either seek new ownership, franchise relocation, or both. Unable to achieve success on or off the ice, the franchise is in a saturated market and can not compete with professional hockey in the Chicago area.

Michigan Warriors – Rumors have swirled about the Warriors potential relocation since the summer of 2011. It looks as though the Warriors will be back in Flint. Feeling more secure with new ownership going into Traverse City, the Warriors should return for at least one more season. There is a local ownership group in the Flint area looking to bring minor professional hockey back to Perani arena if the Warriors do eventually move. This situation remains worth watching until the NAHL reaches a higher level of stability.

Jamestown Ironmen – The Ironmen have not been able to gain support from the local community. Reporting an average attendance of 600 per game, video and photographic evidence show a more likely average of 200 to 250 fans per game. Rumors of the team moving yet again have not been able to be verified. The Ironmen are lead by Owner Kenji Yamada and Head Coach Dan Daikawa, both have shown a strong commitment to the NAHL.

With USA Hockeys NAHL expansion denail of four teams in the Western United States, the league has been left to try to convince its owners that the long term goal of developing a Tier I league will still take place. A loss of Wenatchee, could force the hands of other teams like Fresno, New Mexico, Alaska, and Kenai River. Loss of travel partners would increase expenses, and attendance numbers for these franchises would not support those increased expenses.

While some attendance issues are apparent for some teams, the NAHL can show more than half of its programs drawing more than 1000 fans per night with several over 2000. A handful of other teams are within striking distance of the 1000 fan per night mark. These numbers would support that the NAHL as a whole does appear to remain strong within many markets. Having only a few teams struggling in one of the largest junior hockey leagues in the world is no different than Taco Bell having a few franchises struggle in certain locations.

If the NAHL fails to expand for the 2012-2013 season, or experiences a loss of a few franchises in weaker markets it could actually strengthen the league. Every league in the world gains, looses, and relocates teams on a fairly regular basis. The NAHL growth experience should be no different from that of any other league. A safety net of the NA3HL exists for some of these franchises on the fence, which could keep some of the teams in the NAHL family should struggles persist.

If unable to expand Tier II, Tier III is likely to benefit as well. Having the ability to recruit some of the players who would have made Tier II and participated in a smaller role on those teams, will allow those players to filter through to Tier III and play larger roles. When looking at development of the over all junior product withing the US, this could produce positive results.

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