State of the Federal: Three expansion teams rumored for next season

With the 2017-18 regular season nearing its end, the Federal Hockey League has had quite a ride, one team set the attendance record with plenty of games to spare, while another team folded in the middle of the year due to low attendance.

The Winston-Salem Journal recently caught up with the General Manager of the expansion Carolina Thunderbirds, Scott Brand, who averaged more than 2,100 fans per game this season, and Brand had mostly standard stuff to say about the team and league, but did drop one juicy nugget:

Brand indicated there are expansion possibilities with the Federal Hockey League but that shouldn’t affect the Thunderbirds, who have four regular-season games left and then the playoffs.

“There will definitely be a hockey team here next year and right now we are in the Federal Hockey League,” Brand said. “There are three expansion teams the league is looking at right now but that’s about all I can say.”

 

The league lost one franchise during the season for financial reasons as the Cornwall Nationals from Ontario, Canada, folded. That left the FHL with five teams.

“There will definitely be some tweaking within the league,” Brand said about next season. “But I’m not at liberty to say what could happen.”

Hey now, THREE expansion teams? That means if none of the current five teams fold (not likely, sorry North Shore), then the league would have eight teams next season. But what cities and towns would want the FHL, and where are some markets they could play?

@Rovitz and @CallMeBednard discuss:

ROVITZ: So, the rumor in that story is that the FHL is looking at at least three expansion teams, Scott Brand couldn’t say much other than Carolina is back in the FHL next year, my question: Where the hell are these three teams going to play? What markets are left in the already crowed Northeast/Midwest/Southern Ontario?

CALL ME BEDNARD: They’ve tested waters in Battle Creek last year and Kingsville this year. Depending on their level of desperateness, it starts there. After that…it becomes a wash. Hard to say where they’d try unless they’d go back to Dayton AGAIN.

Dayton was listed on the FHL website last year as “INACTIVE” rather than “FOLDED”, but that can only mean so much. BUT, Dayton’s long-time rink closed operations for good this past season.

R: Off the top of your head, are there any markets you didn’t mention previously that you think could be a good fit for the league? Because I look at the Northeast, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, parts of Canada, and the only spot that I could see, if they wanted to start dipping into bigger markets where they’ve had success like Carolina, is Baltimore. Literally every other market that I can think of is taken, or a failed market that previously had a team.

C: Traverse City (MI). Barry Soskin, who owns a couple teams, has ties there. I just don’t know about Baltimore with how big city it is. That’d be the biggest city in the FHL.

R: I thought Traverse City as well, but the rink worries me. What type of standards does the league have, minimum seats and things like that. Because there was talk the Thunderbirds could move to the SPHL, but they have a 4000 seat minimum for teams. But there are teams in North Shore and Watertown whose arenas can’t hold more than 1,500 fans, about the size of the rink in Traverse City.

C: Honestly, I’m insanely doubtful they can truly afford to have standard. St. Clair was not….great. Battle Creek’s sat 400(?). HOWEVER, remember that Quad City of the ECHL just folded too.

R: I only ask because when the Nationals folded (RIP) one of the other owners said they needed around 800 fans to break even, which I why I figured you needed 1,000 seats, so an arena of 400 or so in Battle Creek would never work unless you have crazy corporate support.

And yes, Quad City did fold, but again, I’ve heard the rumor for them is the SPHL, which, if that happens, you wonder if the SPHL would try to snag an established team like Carolina to get to an even 12 for the 2018-19 season.

My other question, why would teams/towns want to get involve with this league? Teams fold every year, and the league doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation in hockey circles.

C: Possibly to claim a tenant in a vacant arena? “Professional” sports in your town? Tourism? Tough to say. Columbus, GA folded from the SPHL recently too. Does the league want to attack the south based on Carolina’s success?

R: Let’s assume that North Shore folds this season, do they really want 3 expansion teams to get to 7, or would they prefer to take two steady, strong teams and have six strong teams in Watertown, Port Huron, Danville, Carolina, and whatever two cities they pick?

C: Then at best, Barry Soskin owns half(ish) your league.

R: I mean, that’s both good and bad though, good because clearly his teams are the most successful in the league, bad, because basically it becomes his league where he can do what he wants unchecked. But we did just see a season where a team of randos played three games that counted.

Last question, Carolina is the wild card in all this AND holds all the cards so to speak, if they bail for the SPHL, does the rest of the FHL fold or do they try and add those expansion teams and keep hanging on?

C: The final death blow to this league will be Carolina in 2019. Danville and port Huron alone a league does not make. There’s so much hope inspired by Carolina and the FHL has to ride off them to build momentum for expansion that retains.

R: I just don’t see towns that would take a team, I even found Williamsport, PA and it turns out they had a team for two years. So the challenge is finding a rink with enough seats in a town that hasn’t been burned by this league before. I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHICH CITIES THEY ADD!

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