Surprising news broke yesterday via the Hamilton Spectator that pointed towards a city council meeting on Monday to ponder the viability of an OHL franchise in Hamilton. While the franchise to be moved into the Hamilton area has not been officially named, all signs point to the Erie Otters, who currently hold residency in the Tullio Centre. but have an expiring agreement at the end of June. Now the Otters are currently in the midst of a project in which the end result would be a 42 million dollar renovation of the somewhat aging facility and hope to have the Otters as tenants for the long term. A lot of the Erie perspective can be found via Erie writer Victor Fernandes and you can read it HERE
If you catch the gist of the article, both sides are being suitably vague and what is going to happen. Maybe the both sides have something to hide, but more than likely they don't want to battle it out in the media. Plus, it is in the best interest of owner Sherry Bassin not to definitively state his intentions. Nothing hurts a fan base more than the moving trucks circling the arena. Just ask the Phoenix Coyotes about that. The Hamilton Spectator article, which incidentally, was front page material was penned in part by well-respected journalist Scott Radley, a guy who usually has his sources in order before going to print. Read into it what you will HERE
The idea of franchises relocating is not a novel one. First and foremost these are businesses designed to maximize profit margins. Now, if I wanted to maximize profit margins, I'm not sure I choose sports franchise ownership as my means to an end because there are too many market variables, and if I chose to move a franchise, I'm not sure that Hamilton would be my first choice. I say that as a proud Hamiltonian and not to say it would not be a workable choice. This history of junior hockey, recently, has been very hit and miss. The Hamilton Steelhawks had a good run in the 1980's first at Mountain Arena, and then at Copps Coliseum, while the poorly-named Dukes of Hamilton had an ill-fated run after the Steelhawks left, culminating in a horrendous team that had to give up its automatic Memorial Cup berth because they were would have been a league wide embarrassment.
These days the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL are the primary tenant in Copps Coliseum and their struggles to maintain a consistent fan base has been a well-documented one. Critics who opine that Hamilton is not a good sports market will say that they are so jaded by failures of an NHL franchise to land in Steeltown, or are still holding out hope for the NHL dream and they will not consistently support minor pro or junior hockey. It's an interesting question. Can it be a good junior market? Well, it would be a better junior market than an AHL market, provided they are tenants at Copps Coliseum and find ways to make the arena as cosy as possible. The other arena being mentioned is the Dave Andreychuck Mountain Arena, with a capacity of 2500 and very little going for it. Space is non-existent inside the arena, concessions are poor, and the seating is well short of what an OHL franchise should expect. It is in a good location, just off a main artery of the city. If it is in the mix, it had better be for the short term.
Overall I like the idea of the OHL back in Hamilton, but at the same time, the Otters have a relatively consistent and loyal fan base who still show even in a year in which the team has just nine victories. I do not like the idea of a fan base that has the rug pulled out from them, and I also hold a certain amount of disdain for people who use cities has pawns to leverage a better deal out of their existing city. All the above are viable events that could happen as this plays out.
The first ball to drop will be on Monday when Hamilton City Council makes their decision on the matter.