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OT: Would WNY/Niagara Peninsula support an OHL franchise?

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07-03-2004, 08:52 PM
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Hobey Baker
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OT: Would WNY/Niagara Peninsula support an OHL franchise?

This past Thursday, I had a conversation with a financially capable gentleman who is looking into investing in the company I work for. After discovering that he is from Winnepeg, Manitoba, we engaged in a rather passionate chat about the greatest sport on the planet....badminton.

No, really, this former steel industry tycoon is a lifelong hockey enthusiast like many of us. Unlike many of us, he unquestionably has the capital to back a hockey enterprise. I'm not here to say that this man is ready to apply for or purchase an existing OHL franchise or anything like that, but I would like to gauge the interest of the hockey populace in the region. For the record, I did indeed ask him his thoughts on entering this business venture. He remarked that it would take a large, dedicated team of people to get something like that off the ground, and that the community committment would have to be overwhelming in order to ever see an investment return. He's in his 60's and would only be interested in it as a joint venture, but that he would "certainly discuss it with his people". Knowing that I'm a huge fan, he probably was saying that to let me down easily.

Apparently, he has no interest in joining a team of investors to bring an NHL team back to Manitoba, calling the NHL a "risky, risky gamble". I would guess that Winnepeg is probably the hugriest area going right now for NHL hockey. Saying that, and keeping his comments in mind, I highly doubt that he would take the idea of bringing OHL hockey to a local market any further than our conversations, and would list it as a 3% possibilty of ever coming to fruition.

Still, that shouldn't keep us from talking about it. Personally, I think with all the recent developmental trends on the Canadian side of the Falls, that this could be a viable option. I'm not sure of the particulars that called for Niagara Falls losing the Thunder years ago, but the landscape of the region has changed quite a bit since then. It would probably take a new arena being built adjacent to the new casino/hotel areas. Southern Ontario could really use another team; one that could draw upon fan interest from WNY to Hamilton and points west towards London, and could also bridge the gap on road swings down to Erie, PA. He and I both agreed that it probably wouldn't work in Buffalo.

Even if nothing becomes of it, I had the pleasure of talking sticks and pucks for a good two hours at lunch over Kendall Jackson chardonnay- all on company time. I'd like to know the thoughts of the forum on this "project". Perhaps some insightful posts could give some "ammo" for the next time I decide to be a pain in the ass and approach this topic with him.


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07-03-2004, 10:54 PM
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Moskau
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Niagra Falls can support an OHL franchise.

If I'm not mistaken they are building or planing on building an arena that will seat the CHL minimum and more (4,000?).

I read an article about this a few months ago so my number could be off, and it could have already been nixxed.

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07-04-2004, 07:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moskau
Niagra Falls can support an OHL franchise.

If I'm not mistaken they are building or planing on building an arena that will seat the CHL minimum and more (4,000?).

I read an article about this a few months ago so my number could be off, and it could have already been nixxed.
From everything I've read, that plan is still in place and is moving forward. NF, ON has a development agenda that didn't include a new arena when Sherwood decided he wanted a new lease arrangement. He got what he wanted from the city leaders in Erie, it had less to do with draw at the gate than it did with Bassin trying to squeeze a better deal. The arena is moving forward.

Now St. Catherines on the other hand already has a nice new rink that wouldn't require too much to make it viable....

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07-04-2004, 08:39 AM
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Hobey Baker
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OK, so I'm guessing the rink construction is geared towards attracting an OHL franchise.. Is it to be an expansion team, or a relocation project? If the latter, who are the suspects? Also, does anyone know if there's a timetable in place for this happening?
(links would be great- thanks in advance)

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07-04-2004, 09:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KrisBaker
OK, so I'm guessing the rink construction is geared towards attracting an OHL franchise.. Is it to be an expansion team, or a relocation project? If the latter, who are the suspects? Also, does anyone know if there's a timetable in place for this happening?
(links would be great- thanks in advance)
It's been rumored that the Belleville Bulls will eventually relocate to Niagara Falls. The team was recently sold, but the new owner will move the team if he doesn't get a commitment to upgrade the arena.
Bulls going nowhere, but seats still an issue

Bulls' run over in Belleville? Without arena improvements, city could lose its OHL team

Niagara Falls could get Bulls

Niagara Falls?

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07-04-2004, 10:45 AM
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I always thought a team would do well in the Buffalo area, not necessarily Niagara Falls. The OHL is a good, affordable product, and I think those hockey fans who don't have the budget for the Sabres (a fair amount in this area) will latch onto a team like that, as well as kids. If we had a team, I know I'd go to almost every game myself.

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07-04-2004, 08:50 PM
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Hobey Baker
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eSabre
I always thought a team would do well in the Buffalo area, not necessarily Niagara Falls. The OHL is a good, affordable product, and I think those hockey fans who don't have the budget for the Sabres (a fair amount in this area) will latch onto a team like that, as well as kids. If we had a team, I know I'd go to almost every game myself.
Personally, I'd have zero problem making the commute over to NF or St. Cats for every game possible. That area deserves hockey, and it'd be best supported there. The American dollar woud make it very affordable for the Upstate fan, so I'm sure stateside fans would do their part. Reading the posts in prior threads (thank you Buffaloed- that was very informative, awesome), it seems as if there were attendance deficiencies during the Thunder's tenure. This may not have been the reason for the move, but it's a concern for any new team in the region. Could anyone shed some light on why that was? Poor product? Poor marketing and/or advertising? Less than stellar facility and gameday promotions? I was out of the area at the end of the Thunder's days, so I'm a little in the dark about all of that stuff.

Buffalo would obviously be best for selfish reasons, but realistically I think it would be problematic for the city and the Sabres. Afterall, as much as we love the Sabres, many of us would likely go to a good chunk of OHL home games, signifigantly cutting into annual attendance at HSBC. I'm not suggesting a major junior team would ever outdraw an NHL team. You would like to think that an OHL team wouldn't hurt the NHL product, but collectively its "eating a slice of the pie" very well could happen in the downtrodden WNY market. Any team coming to Buffalo (at any level) would face issues with finding a viable rink. I'm guessing that Buff State's Sports Arena would be a good choice, but I don't believe that it would be able to accomodate the OHL's packed schedule. I wouldn't expect to get any help from the local government, either. With the current fiscal crisis that is Erie County politics, and the need to financially support the Park's Dept., they'd probably suggest putting bleachers out at Delaware Park's Hoyt Lake and making the team play there. That wouldn't be good...Mystery, Alaska anyone???

Putting a team in a facility as part of a casino/convention center complex is an excellent idea. I'd point any dissidents to the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, who play in a rink connected to a casino.
http://www.lasvegaswranglers.com/news/?id=146
It may not be the best example, but they drew about 5,000 fans per game for their inaugural season in a market not known for following hockey very closely. Let's see...Celine Dion, Siegfried getting his melon enveloped by Simba(it was actually Roy, wasn't it), crazy casino action or a group of players mostly on their last legs chasing one final dream....In a market with alot of competition, I'd say they fared pretty well.


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07-04-2004, 09:10 PM
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Per a very reliable source, Niagara Falls, ON was not supporting the team very well. The older arena may have had a little to do with the move from NF to Erie (although the arena itself wasn't in bad shape), but lack of fan support was the #1 reason for the move. It was also this person's opinion that they never would solidly support a team, but that was just an opinion.

I think placing a club in Amherst, where hockey has been popular for a long time, might work out, and in fact there were investors exploring the idea at one point. I don't believe a team in Buffalo would be supported, though, nor would other towns in the area.

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07-04-2004, 09:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken McKenna
Per a very reliable source, Niagara Falls, ON was not supporting the team very well. The older arena may have had a little to do with the move from NF to Erie (although the arena itself wasn't in bad shape), but lack of fan support was the #1 reason for the move. It was also this person's opinion that they never would solidly support a team, but that was just an opinion.

I think placing a club in Amherst, where hockey has been popular for a long time, might work out, and in fact there were investors exploring the idea at one point. I don't believe a team in Buffalo would be supported, though, nor would other towns in the area.
Yes, Amherst is a popular spot for hockey, but I don't see it being that much more popular than West Seneca, Cheektowaga, Williamsville, etc. At any rate, I would consider Amherst (or any other local township) in the broad scope of "Buffalo" for the sake of the argument anyways. With its higher population density, the "Northtowns" would certainly make sense on this side of the border.

Say an investment group identified Amherst as a viable location for the "O"- where would they play? The Pepsi Center would no doubt love to house an OHL franchise, but I don't see it being able to jam an OHL crowd of 4,000 inside. One good thing about Amherst, I suppose, is their ability to have public dollars at their disposal to support a renovation project. Other than that, I don't think Alumni Arena has had ice in quite some time. I may be wrong about that, though. I would imagine the league would prefer to stay away from college rentals, but that would ultimately be up to the ownership group to decide.

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07-05-2004, 08:41 AM
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It will be like alot of things here in Buffalo. If they generate a conistent, entertaining and WINNING product, people will support it.

BUT winning isnt always the key to sucess as we all know, the AAA Bisons have probably never had a run of better teams since they came to town in the new stadium and crowds have gotten smaller and smaller(but still dynamic in the scope of AAA ball).

If and when lockout happens they have a real opportunity to fill a niche here and keep the share, but has to be done right and the product has to be quality.

I myself, would be psyched if we got a team from the O here.

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