(Photo credit: Abbotsford Heat)
The rumors had been circulating for awhile. It seemed questionable if the Calgary Flames would keep their AHL affiliation in Abbotsford. Today, the official announcement came. The Abbotsford Heat will make their Calder Cup run this season and then the franchise will move to a new home.
“The economics did not turn out the way any of us intended, despite the tremendous efforts of many men and women who made it their mission to convert the allegiances of local hockey fans, at least at the American Hockey League level, to the Heat,” Flames President & CEO, Ken King, said in a press release today. “Notwithstanding economic our experiences in the Fraser Valley have been good. We have made good friends, have wonderful local partners and believe that our players have been served well in this market. Unfortunately, the time has come for us to move on.”
Reports indicate that the city of Abbotsford has paid millions over the past five years to cover losses incurred by the team. Today it was announced that they paid another $5.5 million to close out the lease with the arena, which still had another five years on it.
The team leaves after their fifth season. They moved to Abbotsford in 2009 for the 2009-2010 season. Prior to that season, the Flames had spent two seasons with their AHL franchise in Illinois operating as the Quad City Flames. Ultimately, that did not prove to work out for Calgary prompting the move to Abbotsford, BC.
Unfortunately, attendance has been a struggle from the beginning. The Heat have routinely been towards the bottom of the league in attendance. This year they will only finish above the Portland Pirates in attendance. The Pirates had to play their whole season 45 minutes north of their home rink, making low attendance inevitable.
So, why was Abbotsford so low when hockey in Canada seems like a match made in heaven? There’s one obvious answer: Abbotsford is affiliated with the Calgary Flames.
The majority of players to dress for Abbotsford are prospects of the Calgary Flames. But, Abbotsford is only about an hour outside of Vancouver, home to the Canucks. It seems that fans have been reluctant to embrace prospects of the Flames when their loyalty belongs to the Canucks, despite the best efforts of everyone involved.
Prior to this season, the Vancouver Canucks bought the franchise in Peoria to move them to a new location. The Canucks also entered talks with the Flames to take over having Abbotsford as their affiliate in exchange for the new franchise to be put at a location of Calgary’s choosing. It might have been easier to get fans to come out and watch the Canucks prospects than to watch players destined to wear a Flames jersey. Talks ultimately did not work out and Vancouver ended up with their affiliate in Utica, New York.
Aside from that, it’s hard to operate a team in the AHL so far away from their opponents. With attendance being so low (the Heat averaged just 3,007 through their 38 home games), money is tight. Many teams locate close to other teams to save on travel and the Heat did not have that luxury.
As of now, it appears unclear where the Flames will locate their franchise for the 2014-2015. Rumors indicate Glens Falls, New York as the early front runner. The city is currently home to the Adirondack Phantoms, AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. But, the Flyers will move their affiliate to Allentown, PA for the start of next season, leaving Glens Falls without a team.