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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Moving On Up To The Northside

Folks may not be too up on this unless you're a big fan of the AHL, but the Philadelphia Phantoms are about to become a homeless hockey team.

Their home in Philadelphia has been the famous Philly Spectrum which will be demolished once the Phantoms season comes to an end and with that comes a search for where the Phantoms will play in the meantime.

Adirondack Phantoms - Get Used To It

A couple of areas have jumped to the forefront of the debate to pull in the Phantoms, one close by to their current location in Pennsylvania and the other... Well, the other is a throwback to a bygone era of the American Hockey League.

First up is a location in the Lehigh Valley, namely Allentown, PA. There's some buzz about going here, but it appears there's not much in the way of current infrastructure (read: An arena to play in!) to make it happen right away.

The debate going on in Allentown taps into something more of a microcosm of what happens in the major metroplexes when it comes to building such places: Why spend public money for sports luxuries?

An interesting note made in that opinion piece that helps justify the cause for building a new arena is something that everyone can understand:

That said, if a local government is bent on building a new arena or stadium, now may be the time to do it, because costs are lower and the new construction can create jobs and a short term economic stimulus.

Well, duh.

All that aside, Allentown is at a huge disadvantage compared to their apparent competition for the affections of Phantoms management. After all, Allentown can't make the claim that they've once been home to a Calder Cup championship team or two the way Glens Falls, New York can.

OK now picture this with a hockey rink and fans decked out in purple and orange.

That's right, Glens Falls the former home of the Adirondack Red Wings, wants the Phantoms to come north in the worst way.

I could pick and snipe from a few articles from the local newspaper (hey, remember those?) The Post Star, but they've gone hog wild covering the Phantoms situation as well as the local efforts to lure them in by dedicating a full page of links and articles on their website.

Honestly, the media focus on its own is pretty impressive considering that Glens Falls is a city that is actually starved to get professional hockey back there. You know, honest to goodness professional hockey, not something that is fighting on ice skates like they had with former Civic Center residents the Adirondack Frostbite (out of the UHL) also known as the Adirondack IceHawks.

The last two seasons, Glens Falls made time and room for the former Adirondack Red Wings blood rivals, the Albany River Rats by having some regular season home River Rats games played at the Civic Center - a shrewd move by the city to show that they can still bring folks into the arena and support a local team - even if it's one that they may still hate for eventually chasing away the much beloved Red Wings.

The folks with the Phantoms have been smart about this though. The Brooks Group, the Phantoms ownership, have pledged to folks in Glens Falls that if they get 2,500 folks to commit to season ticket packages they will move the team to the city and rock their faces off with real, actual professional hockey once again.

According to the story, all it takes for folks to help bring a team back to Glens Falls is a $25 deposit and the good faith to drop between $320 and $760 for a 40-game season ticket package, prices that really aren't unreasonable at all.

Think about that, $8 a game to watch professional hockey? That sounds pretty awesome, especially since Glens Falls Civic Center doesn't have a bad seat in the building, you just have to make do without the super modern amenities available in many other arenas.

As always, there's a catch involved.

The goal of 2,500 season ticket pledges has a new target date of April 28 (it was April 30), less than a week from today, and currently sales are just over 1,000. The Brooks Group has made it known that the language in the lease agreement says that the date can be made negligible if they decide to go ahead with the city anyways.

I'm sure the Brooks Group would feel a lot better about things if they had 2,500 to go with right off the bat, but this is where reality sets in pretty hard. Glens Falls is a poorer city than Albany, and Albany has certainly shown they struggle bringing folks to the Times Union Center averaging just over 3,500 fans a game, third worst in the AHL.

While Glens Falls is a more hockey-centric and hockey crazy place than Albany, the residents there also come from a more blue-collar background and may not have the disposable income needed to plunk down the kind of money needed to keep the owners happy.

That said, Glens Falls hasn't had actual good hockey in the city in a long time (10 years gone now) and the Philadelphia Phantoms have been successful recently, including playoff runs the last two seasons.

The fans in Glens Falls are savvy and a good team will bring fans out in droves, at least enough to make the near 5,000 seat arena fill up and provide the home ice advantage teams in the AHL yearn for.

The Brooks Group is being quite wise and political about the process, however, and they don't want to burn a bridge in Pennsylvania, especially since the lease agreement with Glens Falls is so beneficial to them and allows them to use Glens Falls a temporary place to stay should they want to head back to the Lehigh Valley if/when Allentown, PA bends over backwards to get the Phantoms to come back home.

Brooks said Wednesday that the Lehigh Valley remains their first choice as a permanent location for the team.

“We’re working with Allentown and Bethlehem. We’re working on the financing of it,” he said. “It’s a market that we’ve been working on for several years.”

I don't know about you, but reading words like that don't really do a whole lot to inspire any feelings of potential loyalty I would have towards a team that might come to my home town.

I know it makes sense to keep a Flyers farm team near Philadelphia for logistical and hometown fan-cultivating needs, and I know it seems silly to have a farm team of a not-really local team in an area not known for having many Flyers fans in the first place. Hell, Glens Falls is still a Red Wings town to this day.

The city and the mayor want professional hockey back there in the worst way and everyone loves a winner and Glens Falls certainly loved the Red Wings. Should this pan out and the city gets its chance to be "big time" once again with the Phantoms, I'll be more curious to see if folks warm up to them right away - especially with both the "out clause" and potential short-term status Sword of Damocles hanging over them.

If there's something fans in this part of upstate New York don't like it's being jerked around by professional sports (see: Albany Patroons, Albany-Colonie Yankees, Albany Firebirds, Albany River Rats, Capital District Islanders, Albany Choppers), and investing time and money into a team that might bolt town in three to five years sets up potential disaster towards the end of that run.

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