The Albany Devils’ presence here generates millions of dollars for the local economy and supports thousands of jobs, but the future of that presence is uncertain.
According to a report calculated by the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Devils generate an economic impact of more than $17.1 million in a season.
The American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils completed the final year of its five-year contract with the Times Union Center earlier this month. TU Center general manager Bob Belber has been in negotiations with the Devils for a new contract for a few months, but no new contract has yet been signed.
If the Devils choose to stay in Albany, that stay may be short.
“I believe that we’re likely to get a renewal for one more season, that’s my expectation,” Belber said. “I think that’s going to be a scenario where both they and we — the building, county and SMG — will probably ask the local market to step up and come to more games, and to support the team stronger than they have in the past. I think, at the end of next season, if we get that commitment, and I think we will, at the end of next season, depending on how much support is given and how much the community shows it really wants to have an AHL hockey team remain here, we’ll determine whether it goes beyond next season.”
If the Devils leave, whether it be this summer or next, there will be one fewer downtown catalyst for the local economy.
“There’s no doubt bringing fans and teams into downtown is helpful to the economy,” said Carrie Hillenbrandt, director of sales and marketing for BBL Hospitality. “Albany has always been a city that closes down at 5 p.m. when the State workers head out to the suburbs. Like many cities, it has suffered the effects of suburban sprawl. Having events downtown brings people back in the evenings and weekends. They hit the restaurants and bars, and spend money.”
BBL Hospitality operates a number of hotels in the area and 12 Recovery Sports Grill restaurants. The Albany Devils host viewing parties for away games at Recovery Sports Grill. When they have a player in town who does not have an apartment, either because he is with the team temporarily or has just signed a tryout contract, the Devils house the player in one of the hotels run by BBL Hospitality.
That, and renting apartments for their players, helped push the Devils’ lodging costs to about $182,444 this season, according to the economic impact report worked up by Michele Vennard, the president and CEO of the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
That’s small potatoes compared to what they pay for business services — including salaries for office staff, coaches, trainers and others — which came to more than $5.5 million.
“The greatest value of having the Devils is their expenditures within the community,” Vennard said. “They’re the ones who are paying for [their] lodging and transportation and space rental and the business services.”
The Albany Devils also generate more than $1 million in local taxes, another $804,427 in state taxes and $1.5 million in federal taxes.
The report figured by Vennard, with assistance from Albany Devils CEO Chris Ciceri, showed direct sales of more than $10.5 million — $5.9 million spent by the Devils on things such as staff salaries and arena rental, and $4.5 million spent by fans both from the area and visiting the area — and indirect/induced impact of more than $6.6 million.
According to the company “Tourism Economics,” whose model is used by the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau to formulate economic impact reports, indirect impact include “the secondary benefit to suppliers of goods and services to the directly-involved companies,” such as the money the Devils spend to charter a bus for away games. Induced impact include “the tertiary benefit to the local economy as incomes in [direct and indirect] levels of impact are spent on goods and services,” such as when a Devils employee spends money on groceries or a new car or rent.
The report also states the total number of jobs supported by the Devils’ presence is 9,769.
Beyond the numbers, Hillenbrandt sees the Devils’ presence as a quality-of-life asset for the city.
“I believe it’s going to become even more important to keep these teams as we are slowly seeing a transformation in downtown to a place to live,” Hillenbrandt said. “Look at the development of new apartments coming downtown. The heart of downtown Albany will have more residents, and they will be looking to walk to downtown activities.”
Having a tenant like the Devils helps the Albany County-owned Times Union Center generate money in more ways than just ticket sales. The Devils drew 115,398 fans to 35 games in Albany this season, an average of 3,323 per game. The more eyeballs in the arena, the greater the value of the advertising space sold in the Times Union Center, which allows the arena to increase its advertising revenue.
If the Devils do leave Albany sometime in the future, Belber and the county would likely want to find a similar tenant.
“I think it’d be pretty tough to get another hockey team to come in,” Belber said. “I don’t think it would be as hard to get another team or two in other leagues that may have an interest in coming in, whether it be soccer or lacrosse or other sports. There are some opportunities out there that we’re currently looking at, just as a back-up plan.”
Belber said keeping pro hockey in the TU Center, though, has been a priority and a challenge for him since he took the job in 1994.
There has been a pro hockey team in Albany since 1993, when the Capital District Islanders ended a three-year stay in Troy, moved to Albany and became affiliated with the New Jersey Devils, changing the franchise name to the Albany River Rats.
“One of the things I’m going to be working very hard with Chris Ciceri and his staff from the Devils in the next year,” Belber said, “assuming they give us the renewal for next season, one of the things I’m going to be doing very strongly with my staff, is we’re going to go out and try to engage every person in the community who hasn’t been to a game or that hasn’t been to a Devils’ game in a long time. We want them to see photographs and images of families and kids who are coming to these games, who are having the times of their lives, people who because they tried it, they’re coming back again a week or two weeks from now, coming to another game.
“We need to get the community, No. 1, to have a pride in having a team, and No. 2, to actually experience it, to come and enjoy it. Because once they do, I think you’ve got them. Once they come and see a game, they see how exciting it is, then I think they’ll come back.”
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