Saturday, June 12, 2010

A not crackpot K-Rock Pot notion: the Kingston Senators

The spirit of late, great Kingston sportscasting institution Max Jackson demands sharing the idea that a reader sent word of a Facebook group advocating for the Ottawa Senators' American Hockey League affiliate to play out of the K-Rock Centre.

Feel free to put file that in the Just Crazy Enough To Work desktop folder.
"The timing is right for Kingston to bring in better hockey. Elton John came here, why not the Baby Sens.

"Consider that Kingston is geographically located right in the center of Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. The games featuring these teams would be rather exciting for the city.

" ... The capacity for a hockey game at the K-Rock Centre is 5,700 patrons. There are only 8 AHL teams that averaged higher attendence than that last season. Binghamton averaged 3,629.

"... It's closer to Ottawa so they (the Senators) can move players and personnel much easier. Also, Sens fans could easily make the drive down from Ottawa to see a game. That's much tougher to do with Binghamton."
It would never happen in a billion years. Merely mentioning it verges on, "What, renovating the restaurant you don't own, or pending 200 million dollars you don't have?" territory.

Still, as a connoisseur of blue sky thinking applied to sports, it is not all that as insane. An AHL team moves into Kingston bearing the colours of the Senators, who have built a pretty solid following in the city due to Rogers Sportsnet's regional broadcasts. The Frontenacs franchise then relocates down Highway 401 to Cornwall, where the Royals could be reborn. The Cornwall Civic Centre complex is still up to Ontario Hockey League standard.

It fits in with two broader trends in sports. One is that Major League Baseball and NHL teams have a preference for having their Triple-A farm team close to home. In baseball alone, the Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies have managed to partner up with a Triple-A team in the same state just within the past three seasons. (The trade-off, mind you, might not be all that great for the Senators. A player would not have to clear customs if he is meeting the team in Ottawa, but keep in there are times they call someone up during a U.S. road trip.)

The second is the AHL is probably going to try to grab a share of smaller-sized Canadian markets, especially the longer Canada is underserved by the NHL. It already went into Abbotsford, B.C., whose metro population (159,000) is about the same as that of Kingston (153,000). The arrival of the Abbotsford Heat, who are the Calgary Flames' affiliate, hasn't been a slam dunk. The Heat averaged 3,700 fans, but there are questions about the financial burden taken on by the city.

The rub is Kingston already has assumed the financial burden and needs to find a way to get more revenue out of the building. In any business, one way to do this is offering something new, changing the formula.

The Frontenacs might be past the point where they're part of a normal ebb and flow with attendance and on-ice results. Twelve seasons without a playoff series win, with the same general manager (quoth Mark Potter from late 2008: "If Larry Mavety survives in Kingston, junior hockey won't") has made it look like stagnation.

The move to the K-Rock Pot, which the OHL Arena Guide calls "an easy rival of Oshawa's GM Centre as the best new arena in the league" has not helped grow their fanbase past their 2,300 to 2,800 loyalists. The Fronts had the same percentage decrease in attendance this season, despite a 25-point improvement, as the nearest rival, the Belleville Bulls, did while dropping off by 50 points. Their radio broadcasts have been on three stations in as many seasons.

Some that is poor management. Some of it is pause to wonder if the market for the OHL is ever going to recover in Kingston. The one certainty is the city has hockey fans, as evidenced by the sellouts for the world junior exhibition games in 2008 and the turnout of 5,100 for the Brampton Battalion-Frontenacs Game 7 loss.

The Baby Sens moving in would be a cool change. That team could average 4,000 fans across 41 home dates (seven more than the OHL's 34), if the pricing point was kept realistic.

The AHL is a better calibre than the OHL. The Senators, who have talked about holding their rookie camp in Kingston in September, would continue to solidify one of their satellite centres.

Owner Doug Springer could make more money, but would have little to no say over coaches and player personnel. It's win-win.

Obviously, a handful of people joining a Facebook group asking for a Kingston AHL team is not a news story. Kingston should be getting more from its top level of hockey. The city needs more people attending events at the K-Rock Centre. The Senators could always use a way to keep chipping away at Toronto and Montreal's powerbase.

Last, but not least: Ottawa Senators fans would have a reason to go to an arena which is actually located downtown.

(For anyone wondering: getting into this has nothing to do with a certain critic of the Frontenacs now being on the junior hockey beat. Now, your humble agent is sufficiently addicted to self-Googling to have heard a few variations of, "Now that Neate is covering junior hockey, will he say the same things about the Frontenacs?"

Short answer: no. Longer answer: no, but not for reasons you might think and did you really just refer to yourself in the third person?

The tone probably will change because youth condemns and maturity condones. It is time for an attitude adjustment. The hope is the Frontenacs would allow bygones to be bygones, presuming they ever heard about this site.

Of course, that's a totally self-serving statement after suggesting the current team leave town on the say-so of some Facebook users.)


Sportsdump said...

taking the time to inject your thoughts on the "Make it 3 - AHL in Kingston" facebook group, and in detail, is class act

you bring up good points from start to finish

I like the enthusiasm injected by the creator of that group - some ideas "that far out there, why not?" ... I'm certain my passion for the puck out weighs the practical

rarely is my glass half empty but I don't feel we (Kingston) have the population / fan base to make it viable ... another area of concern is home/away games getting teams to Kingston as of right now, Customs staff at Normal Rogers Airport can only handle airplanes with a 30-person capacity... not many AHL teams have their own planes so they would have to fly Jazz for example with commuters, tourists -- they could fly to Pearson and charter a bus the rest of the way

as you already know it's a very expensive business running an AHL franchise / 2008-09 Forbes reported 12 teams lost money

we could lure a new business owner to Kingston with free rides on the Wolfe Island Ferry


MisterDB said...

Interesting, I had season tickets with the Aces Sr A team when they announced that they would be replaced by a Jr A team (The Kingston Canadians) and there sure was a buzz in the city back then. For awhile it was the hottest ticket around. I may be time for a drastic change if the Frontenacs continue to be misguided. It is still going to take something drastic and a few years to improve on the faithful numbers attending the K-Rock if not a new owner and GM then maybe just maybe a new team is the answer.

Anonymous said...

since Big Harv is not running for re-election...

A) Fronts go to Cataraqui, the winning Vees move into the K-Rock Pot

B) Kingston Senators!

and reading MisterDB's comment I'd like to see Senior Hockey here but on a scale and level similar to what's happening in Quebec with their Senior Mens Hockey; every game is like the movie Slapshot

give the fans GOOD entertainment, and they'll be happy to pay at the box

Anonymous said...

It would make a lot of sense to have the Sens AHL affiliate play in a town two hours or less away, rather than in Bingo.
It's a move that could grow Ottawa's profile in the area, which has historically been Leaf country.
Mostly, it gives people a chance to see a real hometown team, as opposed to the Affronts.