AHL President Evaluates West Coast Moves and Future Possibilities

AHL President 2015Two years ago, MayorsManor first broke news of the Kings’ plans to move their AHL affiliate to Southern California. In the months following, we continued to cover the story, with several other teams joining the AHL’s West Coast invasion. Now, midway through the first season of actual games being played in California, league President and CEO Dave Andrews sat down with MayorsManor to address how the overall plan has unfolded thus far and what other changes may be in store relatively soon…

Andrews on if the AHL’s move West has done the way they envisioned before the start of the season:

“Yeah, it’s been outstanding. I think the fan engagement has been even greater than we anticipated. I think right across the five markets, both in terms of attendance, and in terms of people we’re seeing following us with respect to social media and engagement with the league has been really powerful in all of those cities. So, it’s been excellent and I think the hockey’s been good. And the most important element is that the five NHL teams that have committed to moving their teams out here are all really happy with the concept and with how it’s working, so it’s good.”

On how the league has dealt with any unexpected challenges of five teams moving to California – and if they have they been manageable:

“No, I think the challenge was really in putting the deal together. And once we had the elements of an agreement to bring those cities into the league, and to transfer franchises out here, and to coordinate a sale of our team in Norfolk out to Anaheim, to go into San Diego. Once all of those pieces were negotiated there really wasn’t much left to do. I mean, once you got the franchises located you turn the business over to the teams and they go about their business. So, no, it’s been excellent in every regard and I think the teams are, you know, three other teams — or four other teams — were already owners in our league. So, it’s not that we don’t know the people, or that they’re new to our board, or that they’re new to our strategic plan and mission. Once the deal was done it hasn’t been very difficult at all.”

On if there have been unexpected benefits of the relocations:

“Well, I think we’ve benefitted from, obviously, increased attendance. These markets have all done better than the ones they were in in the East, when they were in the other part of our league geographically, so that’s helped us. I think it’s still early for us to really take advantage of more of a national footprint. I wouldn’t say we’ve seen any benefit from that, but I do think that we’re seeing growth and interest in the game in California, and that’s important too. I mean, that’s one of the reasons the NHL clubs wanted to move the American Hockey League franchises here, was to help grow the game. There’s no question that there is really strong interest in the American Hockey League, and in these players in all the markets. The connection between, for example, the Ontario Reign and the L.A. Kings is really a driven interest here, which was already pretty strong for hockey, to another level. It’s good for the game, it’s good for the L.A. Kings, and I think it’s great for fans in this region.”

On the possibility of the league expanding their West Coast footprint:

“There’s nothing really in the works at this point. I think we’re waiting to see whether there is expansion in the National Hockey League. If there is, that will obviously allow us to expand by whatever number of teams the NHL expands by. And depending on the locations of those expansion teams, if one of them were in the West or two of them were in the West, we would have an opportunity to create a couple more teams out here. But as it is, we have thirty active franchises, thirty NHL teams, and the other Western-based clubs at this point are relatively happy with the affiliation agreements they have. You know, we’ve moved a couple of teams closer to Colorado, for example, and we’ve moved them to San Antonio this past spring. And Columbus moved into Cleveland from Springfield. So, slowly but surely, the NHL clubs are all getting closer to home, which is what they want. Over a period of some years, looking down the road, I do think there will be more teams on the West Coast, but I think it’s going to take a few years before that happens.”

On the attendance recorded by the five California clubs:

“I think San Diego has been the biggest surprise — well, I wouldn’t say they’re a surprise. Anaheim knew that they had an opportunity to be very successful in San Diego. But when you look at their attendance so far, they’re certainly close to the top of the league, which is a positive. So, San Diego has been very good. I think we knew Ontario was going to be good, it had a very strong track record in the ECHL. Bakersfield has been fine. I think San Jose, playing in their own building, are trying to figure that one out a bit, but the attendance there has been good on weekends and a little tougher on weeknights. But they’re doing the right things and they’re growing a new fanbase there. The thing is, I think every one of those teams is confident that they’re moving in the right direction. And, for us, the most important thing is that the ownership groups are happy. They’re happy to have their players closer to the NHL clubs, they’re happy with trying to grow the game in California through the American League, and I think they’re happy with their progress through the first three months of this year.”

On the upcoming All Star Game and other league activity:

Well, we’re really focused on our All Star Game. During the All Star event we have our Hall of Fame induction. We also have our Board of Governors meetings for the mid-winter, the meeting of the year for our board. So, there’s lots ahead of us for the next couple of weeks that we’re pretty focused on, but once we get through that, before you know it, we’re into the stretch drive and the Calder Cup Playoffs, and get right at it. But the All Star is a big event for us. It’s nationally televised in both Canada and the U.S. It’s a showcase and with the new format this year, playing the mini-tournament, with four-on-four and three-on-three, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for our players. I know the coaches are looking forward to it. Fans in Syracuse, and fans on TV, are going to see a really neat event.

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