Are Worcester city leaders looking at wrong things in search for new hockey team?

This blog posting is a rebuttal of an article that appeared online this morning on telegram.com. It’s not Bill Doyle I wish to rebut, but DCU Center General Manager Sandy Dunn, who is quoted in the article.

For those that can’t get through the pay-wall of the Worcester Telegram, there are two quotes of Sandy I want to address. I originally was going to separate them and then comment on each, but I think it’s best if we just look at the two and then go from there.

“It makes me wonder whether this is a hockey market,” (Dunn) said.

“It is our belief that in order for an ECHL to be successful,” Ms. Dunn said, “it would need to have a Boston Bruins affiliation and we have communicated that to the potential ownership groups.”

You put a winning product on the ice, and fans show up. You lose and fans stay home. It’s that simple. In 20 years of AHL hockey a team with “Worcester” in their name never made it past the second round of the playoffs. In minor league hockey people don’t turn out to watch losing teams. While winning doesn’t guarantee financial success consistently losing guarantees eventual financial failure. That’s a fact in every city and every minor league.

To get the “bodies through the door” that Dunn and the DCU Center needs when looking for a potential hockey ownership group what they should be looking for is someone that wants to focus on “Worcester” and not “Bruins”, or some other nickname. The way affiliations work in the ECHL unless you get an iron clad contract to always and forever be the “Worcester Bruins” it’s not going to happen. If that’s the business model you need you’re probably going to fail because, mark my words, at some point the Boston Bruins are going to walk away from you.

In the beginning the IceCats did everything on the cheap and it showed. When the Blues finally bought the team they had no clue how to run an AHL franchise and eventually sold it to folks in Peoria without even looking for local ownership (despite them saying they did, but that’s a whole different story). When the San Jose Sharks came here they had in no interest in winning, and basically came right out and said that. The people who could have changed that really went out of their way to never interact with the fans, and members of the Worcester organization here that continued to complain about it were eventually fired.

While both of those organizations made mistakes in understanding the Worcester market, both also did some things right. What Worcester needs is a hockey ownership group that understands both of the previous situations, gets how this market works, and applies all that to develop a formula for winning on the ice and to have financial success. That formula has to include partnering with the DCU Center, local government, and the business community. Everyone has to be focused on the success of the franchise and have a stake in it succeeding. Both fans and sponsors alike have to feel they are getting what they paid for, and amazingly enough, having that happen will attract more fans and sponsors.

Think it’s not possible? Well, just look a little ways west down 290 at the Worcester Bravehearts. After the Tornadoes collapsed city leaders were completely focused on attracting another ownership group to place a team in the fledgling Can-Am league for various reasons that basically made no sense. Now they trip over themselves racing to congratulate John Creedon on winning last season’s FCBL championship and making the playoffs again this season. The Bravehearts have committed local ownership, a nickname that does the city proud, and have taken the most successful things the Tornadoes did and incorporated those into their way of doing business. Now granted that’s baseball and not hockey, but the concept is absolutely the same: sound local ownership with a commitment to winning being partners with the local government and the business community.

Everyone that follows sports knows about the adage that it’s the name on the front of the jersey that’s more important than the name on the back, meaning that it’s all about the team and not the individual. That’s absolutely the case here. Everyone has to work as a team to make hockey, at either the AHL or ECHL level, a success in the city. And that starts with the name on the front of the jersey…

“Worcester”.

-30-

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