After 31 years as a professional hockey market, Peoria may soon lose its Rivermen. The St. Louis Blues are the parent club and owner of the Peoria Rivermen, but sources are beginning to wonder if new Blues owner Tom Stillman will be willing to pay the bill for the AHL team.
Coming into what will prove to be one of the Blues most expensive offseasons, the team will be looking to cut the budget wherever they can. If the Blues want to begin to make money, they may need to liquidate one of their costly assets which is an AHL team that does not pull in any profits. Few AHL teams make money and losing money is not an option for this new ownership group, but it might not just be as easy as selling the minor league franchise.
The St. Louis Blues have two years remaining on their lease of the Peoria Civic Center, the home of the Rivermen. If the Blues were to sell the franchise, they could possibly include the costs of breaking contract into the sale.
Rumors began to stir when the Vancouver Canucks made it known that they would like to have a minor league team closer to home. There were talks that the Calgary Flames may end their arrangement with the Abbotsford Heat, selling them to the Canucks. In this scenario, it was believed that the Flames would then buy the Peoria Rivermen and move them closer to home as well, leaving the Blues with a new arrangement with the Chicago Wolves, the current AHL team of the Canucks.
After rumors of that deal fell through, it was believed that the Flames would be moving their AHL team to a location outside of British Columbia. The Flames are supposedly looking to move their AHL franchise to Utica, New York or Tulsa, Oklahoma among other places. A move might be pretty believable as the City of Abbotsford signed a 10-year supply agreement with the Heat, guaranteeing that the franchise would at least earn a break even revenue of $5.7 million annually which has cost taxpayers $3.58 million over the last three seasons according to the Leader Post.
So, enter the Vancouver Canucks who may now be interested in purchasing the Peoria Rivermen and relocating them to Abbotsford if the Flames move the Heat. In this scenario, the Blues would again align themselves with the Chicago Wolves and would just pay a fee for the arrangement rather than float the bill for the franchise. This could pay off for the Blues by lowering costs per season and perhaps gaining some revenue from the sale. The Canucks could then have an AHL team closer to home and that would most likely draw in more revenue than the Heat given that most fans in B.C. are Canucks fans.
While some believe that young players can be easily distracted playing in larger cities, the Blues seem to want their prospects exposed to city living as soon as possible. The plus side could be having players mature at a younger age, but the downside could be prospects getting distracted.
The Peoria Journal Star’s Dave Eminian reported that the Blues may seek to keep the team as well. According to Eminian, the Blues may consider moving the team to Kansas City, Missouri, Indianapolis or Evansville, Indiana. While this option is far less likely, Blues fans would surely enjoy having the AHL club in Kansas City and a bigger market may mean a profitable franchise.
The main issue seems to be the financial situation of the Rivermen, and Tom Stillman wants to give his NHL team the most money to succeed.
In that same article, Eminian got some great information from Bruce Affleck, the Blues Chief Operating Officer,
Nothing is settled (about Peoria’s future). Nothing is decided. The best answer right now is a bit in limbo. I know the rumors are out there and I can’t completely squash them.
For sale is too strong a term (for the Rivermen). Have we talked to people? Yes. But not in months. NHL teams talk all the time, and we talk about a number of things. Affiliations are very fluid in the AHL and this is part of the process all the time. But I’ve had no conversations with the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve had no conversations with the Chicago Wolves.
We have not notified the Peoria Civic Center that our status is changing, and the deadline in our lease to do that (without monetary penalty) for next season has passed. As of right now, we are looking at operating in Peoria next season. We’d like to have more people in the building. But I can say the same thing for Blues games.
Doug Armstrong and Tom Stillman look at the AHL operation as research and development investment for players. You lose money there. Very few teams in the AHL make money.
Chicago Wolves GM Wendell Young has confirmed reports that he has been speaking with at least five different NHL teams, including the St. Louis Blues. Young though is quick to say it is business as usual for now and that the team will approach this situation at the end of the season.
Right now it seems to be business as usual in Peoria as well. The Rivermen just struck a new sponsorship deal with Brewers Distributing based in Peoria and the team has been instructed to continue to sell season tickets for next season.
While the 2012-13 season has not been a good one on the ice for the Rivermen, it could get a lot worse for fans in Peoria if they lose their team. Only time will tell what Blues management decides to do, but don’t be surprised if the team has a new NHL partner next season.
Stay tuned for more as we have it.
LET’S GO BLUES!