On March 7th, a report began circulating that the Winnipeg Jets want to move their AHL affiliate from St. John’s to Winnipeg, where they would share the MTS Centre with the Jets. A month earlier, the AHL announced the creation of a California Division, with Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego and Stockton all essentially moving up a level from the ECHL. The fifth franchise, however, would be in San Jose. Unlike, Toronto and Chicago, there is only one arena in San Jose and the baby Sharks would also play in the HP Pavilion. While the moving of Eastern teams out west is sad, what is most troubling is the loss of at least one and possibly two minor-league teams as the parent franchise takes control of everything.
I may be more sentimental than others when it comes to minor-league sports, but taking away the teams from these cities hurts on a multitude of levels, even if most games involve fans looking for a fun, cheap night out as opposed to a passioned following of the team (though they are out there). Of course, this affects me selfishly on the stadium side of things, as who would rather see the JV team with the same logo, colors and building vs seeing a team that has an identity with a separate city. This hurts the little guy too as in San Jose they will now have ~80 hockey events a year in their arena, while out in Worcester (where the ECHL is not coming next season), there will be 40 fewer nights where thousands of people come downtown and spend time either before or after the game, enjoying the city and eating/drinking at local places. OK, bad example as I’ve been to the DCU Center in Worcester and the only place benefiting is the Pizzeria Uno across the street. But you get my point.
This is not just a hockey thing either. In a far worse situation, the USL (third tier of American/Canadian Soccer) is seeing an influx of MLS teams set up Reserve Squads. These generic teams now include: LA Galaxy II, New York Red Bulls II, Whitecaps FC 2, Seattle Sounders FC 2, Portland Timbers 2, Toronto FC II, Real Monarchs and FC Montreal. Blah!!! And several will play in the same home of the MLS team. Yes, this certainly has advantages for each franchise as they can closely monitor players and have an easier time with call-ups, but the smaller cities in this country will be missing out on potential professional soccer as the sport is booming (to be fair, this was a big expansion, as only one team (Dayton) was lost this coming season).
Though I’m looking at this from a stadium traveler perspective and seeing the amount of lost opportunities to visit smaller cities and more charming facilities, there are negatives mainly that the rich get richer. I’m not going crazy yet as the trend is not drastic (out of both sports, only Worcester loses out as St John’s would likely get Hamilton’s team and then Hamilton would go to the CHL), however, the moves and where teams are going is concerning. Maybe this side of the topic would get more media attention if it happened in baseball, where stadium travel is more prevalent and there is a deeper connection to local baseball teams. Imagine the uproar if the Tampa Bay Rays said “Sorry Durham, we want our players closer, they are going to play all afternoon games in the Trop and you are left with an empty ballpark”.