• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Tailing the Komets

Business of hockey

One of the best lessons Ken Ullyot ever taught me is that you have to have someone to play, and teams in a league are not your competitors, they are your partners. It's a business every bit as much as a competition because without one you don't have the other.

You're probably like, where the heck is he going here... No, I didn't have the beer. I've noticed a lot of talk of late about the future of the UHL and where they should be, etc., etc. Always fun discussions to wonder what if.

In a perfect world, it would make more sense for Peoria, Indy, Cincy, Dayton and Toledo to be in the UHL, but it can't happen with the current teams in those cities because the ECHL is unionized.

Hit Somebody! you've got to remember that the UHL kind of inherited the East teams. When they had New Haven, Adirondack, Binghamton, Utica, they were all old AHL teams just like the old IHL teams so it kind of made sense to go in that direction. The UHL needed those teams to gain credibility and to stabilize each year. When Utica came in in 1993, there were only eight teams and four of those were in Canada. The UHL needed the hockey tradition, easy sell, common rivalries. Now a couple of those have gotten picked off so the league is scrambling to find new markets out East to stabilize things. They can't abandon the teams they have out there, even if it might make geographic sense in some ways, so they are always scrambling to find new markets. It's really the only option they have.

I don't know if you could make a trade, franchise for franchise per se, but I'm guessing there's be all kind of lawsuits and anti-trust problems and it would probably take a year or two. There's no way any of these franchises could afford to go dark for  year and then come back. It just wouldn't happen.

The problem is, there just aren't that many hockey markets out there or around here that haven't already been picked off. I know there are other UHL expansion franchises coming, and I hope they make it, but the major problem is that this is just a very unstable business. What the Frankes have done over the last 16 years is pretty amazing in that there are very, very few minor league teams around that still have the same ownership group since that time. Milwaukee? Nope. Indy? Nope, Toledo? Nope. Kzoo, no, even though the Parfets have always had a hand in (thank goodness), Muskegon? Nope, though Tony Lisman was always around. QC? Nope. Flint? Not 16 years. It simply doesn't happen because the business is so unstable that they either lose too much or burn out. Other than Hershey and maybe one or two AHL teams, I'm not sure there is anybody else out there that has been around with the same owner for 16 years. Maybe five at the very, very most, but I doubt it.

Unless your team is just a hobby (which will never happen in FW), this is not a good business to get into, and even then you could lose millions in a hurry. The IHL proved that. Look at all the AHL cities that have dropped out or changed over the past five years. Same thing with the ECHL in the South. It's just a tough, tough business. Part of that is because your product quality could change dramatically from week to week, month to month and year to year. It's not something that you can really control thanks to injuries, player movement, etc. Look at how the Komets have only two players left from the 2003 title team. You might there are legitimate reasons, but it's that way in every minor league hockey city now. That's just the way it is.

And it's always been a tough, tough business. Ken Ullyot tells stories of going to the summer meetings and having only three teams, so the owners of those teams would go on bandwagon tours to find potential owners. They'd literally drive up to the rink and ask someone there who the richest people in town were. They got about 1 out of 8 usually, and then they'd have to do it again the next summer. And during the fall, the old owners would help supply players to the new owners to get them started, and by the end of the season they were often paying their payroll.

It's has always been like this folks, and it probably always will be just because it's the nature of the business. It will never be totally stable. Look at it this way, how many of you would get together a bunch of friends, pool your money and buy a team, maybe a minor league team in any sport? None of you would because A) the banks wouldn't back you; B) look at all the franchises in trouble and C) your spouse would leave and take all the money with them first. It wouldn't make financial sense, no matter how much fun you think it would be.

Part of this is nostalgia for the way it used to be, and I totally understand that, but just like in life you have to move forward, you can't go back. Same thing with hockey leagues.

OK, I'll get off my soapbox now. I am REALLY looking forward to Friday's game. I haven't looked forward to a game like this maybe this entire season.

Posted in: Komets


Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:26am

Speaking of owners paying some salary and expenses of other teams, I beleive I read once that the uniforms that the Komets wore their first year in 1952-53 ( they just had numbers on the front and back) were actually uniforms that the Catham Maroons hockey club give/donated to the Komets.

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 7:17am

Blake, that was long but a great read. I think everyone here should take the time to read that a couple times if needed. Blake has been following this team for many years - he remembers the glory years. I think he's a fan as much as a writer. He's not trying to spin anything. It is the reality of the minor leagues. It will never be perfect, but all you have to do is get in a car and pick out any of the other minor league cities to watch a game. Some of those places with the way they run things and present the game are god awful. We've got it pretty good here. There are always things to complain about (that goes for just about everything in life), but we've ahd a team for 54 years and the name has not even changed.

Tony E
Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:41am

I would really like to know why Roanoke is having so many problems. I was there during part of my New Years vacation. Go figure, I miss my first New Years Eve game since 1994 and while I was in Roanoke the Vipers were in Fort Wayne. Anyways, the arena looks great (from the outside anyway) and Roanoke is a beautiful upper middle class city. Talking to people while I was there, they are passionate sports fans. What I was told is, there is no brand identity with hockey because teams and owners keep coming and going. This may be the same problem in Port Huron. I think PH would be better suited for an OHL team but who knows. Ticket prices for the Spitfires are more money than the Komets and actually are more in most OHL rinks. The thing is, if ownership is going to change, the naming rights should be sold too so that the brand can remain consistant. Players come and go, but the jersey stays the same and that is what people grow an allegiance to. It just takes time and some good marketing. Even the Mechanics here are starting to actually get an article in the paper at least once a week. Last year until the Wings players joined the team there were more roaches at the arena than people. I am hoping they make a go of it because it gives me another chance to see the Komets without a 3 hour drive.

Blake great article. Lol more people should read that WHA book. Talk about chaos!!

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:42am

Blake, thank you, that is one of the better articles about the business of hockey that I have read in a long time. I know if I had the money I would still think long and hard before becoming an owner in minor league hockey.

I am also looking forward to the game tonight, this could be a very electric night. We need something to get the crowd into the game right off the bat.

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 9:03am

This is in response to Pat's post:
You are right - at least part for of the Komets' first year, they wore uniforms that were used by Chatham the previous season. In the 1952-53 team picture, Fort Wayne wore striped uniforms (that looked like football jerseys) that may have been used by an Indianapolis team in 1953-54. When Huntington, West Virginia had a team in the IHL for one year in that time period, they recycled some old Komets jerseys by taking off the script "Komets" and replacing it with a black circle with a white "H".

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 10:32am

That's why the Komets' colors the first year were maroon and white. The Chatham Maroons. I think I remember George Drysdale telling me the Komets bought all their equipment from Chatham that first year. He was just a side deal!

I guess that's why I get a kick out of fans saying the Frankes don't want to win or aren't willing to pay for it or whatever. They have no idea what the expenses are, and there are no bigger fans than the Frankes. They live and literally die with this team. Anybody who has seen David Franke's face after a loss knows how hard that is on him. Shoot, I've called him at 3 a.m. after a loss and he picks up on the first ring, and I know I can call then because he'll still be up. This is not just a job to them.

As I said, the easiest thing in the world is to tell somebody else how to spend their money.

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:26pm

Good post but the ending was terrible.
What are you trying to tell us? That staying in the UHL is a good thing or that the Frankes are hockey gods? Frankes rule. They always have. Before and after the purchase of the Komets. But I still don't understand this post. I live for the old IHL days but Blake what are you really saying?

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 3:38pm

Those old IHL days are gone and will never be back for both good and bad. You've got to move forward, and I'm not sure this league or any other league could survive on the attendance figures the IHL had in those days, either.

Frankes aren't gods, but they are very good at what they do, though they never seem to get the credit from some of the fans or can be good enough.

Maybe if the UHL keeps moving forward, it will make itself more attractive to representatives of those other cities if they fail in the other leagues. I guess that's what I mean. Build yourselves up to make yourself more attractive.

Does that help? I think I finished the diatribe at about 2 a.m. last night so any confusion is entirely possible.

Tony E
Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:11pm

where is the internet audio tonight????
I am getting silence when I click on the link :((((((((

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:16pm

Tony, try WOWO.com

Tony E
Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:21pm

I did and the player keeps going back to the "ready" stage. Sigh I didnt call a single foul during the 4th quarter of the basketball game I worked tonight so I could be home for this game. Ooopssss maybe I shouldnt be saying that in print LOL

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:28pm

if it helps at all, you aren't missing a d--- thing. It's 3-1 kzoo and not a blasted thing frenchy could have done on any of them.

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:36pm

Chuck from Komets said he's going to have to go fix it, and it will be up start of second period. 2:09 left in first, still 3-1. Shots 12-6 kzoo.

Tony E
Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:47pm

Tell Chuck thank you. I got the Wowo link to kind of work. Problem is it broadcasts at 48k bits and on dial up it rebuffers every 30 seconds or so. YAY! As I type this, the Kometcast came on. Tell Chuck I said thank you lol!

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 5:50pm

Will do

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 6:25pm

All right, anybody else wondering if Tony might be the Komets' lucky charm?

Tony E
Fri, 02/10/2006 - 6:44pm

LOL see!!!! You give me a chance to hear what is going on and off they go!!!
BTW off the subject, can you ask Brent Rumble if he is related to Jackie who plays on the university of Windsor womens hockey team?

Fri, 02/10/2006 - 8:40pm

For the sake of curiosity, I tracked the body checks thown by the Komets in tonight