ALBANY — Losing money and not having local ownership to help sustain those losses proved to be too much for the New Jersey Devils keeping their American Hockey League affiliate in Albany.
Speculation on the franchise’s future in Albany ended Tuesday when New Jersey announced that it will move its AHL franchise from Albany to Binghamton next season. The AHL Board of Governors approved the move.
“After evaluating multiple scenarios and obtaining the approval of the AHL Board of Governors, we have agreed to partner with a local operating group in Binghamton, N.Y., to relocate our AHL franchise for the 2017-18 season,” New Jersey Devils president Hugh Weber said in a statement. “The new arrangement will allow the
organization to focus its efforts on developing our player prospects, while leaving the business operations to those with expertise in the market.”
During a press conference at Times Union Center, Weber expanded on that statement.
“There’s a couple of different models in the AHL and minor leagues generally,” Weber said. “That is, the team owns and operates the team. There’s another model that we operate only the hockey side or the athletic side of the business, and we leave it to local people to actually run the business. That’s the model that we’re moving to in Binghamton that we did not have here. When we talk about local expertise, it’s not that we didn’t do amazing work here. The staff here . . . did a yeoman’s job in terms of creating connection with this team in the community.
“What we’re talking about is what we didn’t have is local ownership. None of us actually had ties to the Capital Region. We believe it’s helpful for that, in terms of running a club.”
Asked how much money New Jersey lost in Albany, Weber wouldn’t give a specific number.
“Let’s call it multi-seven figure,” Weber said. “We’ll leave it at that.”
Last April, New Jersey signed a three-year lease agreement to keep the team at Times Union Center. However, there was an out clause that allowed New Jersey to get out of the deal after a year.
In September, the Ottawa Senators announced they were moving their AHL franchise from Binghamton to Belleville, Ontario, next season. That opened the door for New Jersey to take a look at Binghamton.
When Ottawa made its announcement, Binghamton Senators executive vice president Tom Mitchell, who has been associated with the AHL since the Binghamton Whalers in 1985, vowed that the AHL would remain in the city.
“[Four or five months ago], I stuck my neck way out there,” Mitchell said at a news conference in Binghamton.
Mitchell said that shortly after Ottawa’s announcement, he received calls from three teams that were interested in talking to him. He declined to name the other two teams.
“It’s our job to create an environment where [New Jersey] can [only worry about hockey], and we pay them for that,” Mitchell said.
The Devils rank last in attendance in the 30-team league this season, averaging 3,096 fans in the Times Union Center. The hockey capacity is 14,236. Binghamton is next-to-last with an average of 3,463 in the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena. However, the hockey capacity is 4,679.
Last year, the Devils were 28th in average attendance at 3,366.
The Devils’ departure will end a nearly 40-year run of AHL play in the greater Capital Region. The Adirondack Red Wings started it all in 1979.
It will be the second time the Devils have left Albany. They moved their players to Lowell, Mass., following the 2005-06 season. The Carolina Hurricanes replaced them before they departed Albany for Charlotte after the 2009-10 season. The Devils returned after that.
Weber said New Jersey isn’t completely abandoning the Capital Region market.
“Let me be clear, the Albany market and the Capital Region is an incredible market,” Weber said. “We are still looking at potential opportunities to bring other entities, potentially a sports entity, back to this building. We think it’s an incredibly run building.”
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy confirmed Weber’s comment.
“The Devils have been good,” McCoy said. “There are negotiations going on quietly right now, and we can’t let them out. It wouldn’t be 38 nights. It would be like eight or 10 nights. We’re working out the details. Hopefully, it happens.”
That sounds like an Arena Football League-type schedule. The TU Center housed the Albany Firebirds from 1990-2000, and later the Albany Conquest of af2 from 2002-09. The team was renamed Firebirds in 2009.
“I’m not saying that,” McCoy said.
Rob Centorani of the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin contributed to this story.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Ken Schott at 395-3159, [email protected], or on Twitter @slapschotts. Read his take on pro and college hockey any time by checking out his blog, Parting Schotts, at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott.
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