There already were a reported 17.1 million reasons for the area to support the Albany Devils, but Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, County Executive Dan McCoy and Times Union Center General Manager Bob Belber will present a few more Wednesday morning.
Sheehan and McCoy sent a letter to business leaders last month inviting them to the “Albany Slap-Shot Breakfast Meeting” at the Times Union Center on Wednesday at 8 a.m., where Belber and a handful of others will speak about the importance of keeping the Albany Devils in the downtown venue.
The Devils, who have been mired at the bottom of the American Hockey League in attendance its entire five-year run in Albany, will have the option of leaving the Capital Region after the upcoming season.
The team brings an annual economic impact of $17.1 million to the region, according to a report by the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Its presence also affects the quality of life, and the team and its players are active in the community.
Belber hopes to present initiatives for businesses who are willing to partner with the Devils. Those proposals were still being finalized this week.
“I think we've got a very good message that's going to be presented, and believe that people who are attending this breakfast will feel the same way I do about the need to keep the Albany Devils in Albany on a long-term basis,” Belber said. “We are going to talk about and provide a road map for how we can do that.”
For those business owners or operators who did not receive a letter from Sheehan and McCoy but wish to attend the meeting, Belber said they can email him ([email protected]) to ask to be added to the list of more than 100 who have already RSVP'ed. He believes that number will swell to between 150 and 200.
“We're looking at the bigger picture of how being supportive of the Devils can also parlay itself into opportunities to support what's happening here in the city,” Sheehan said. “We're really going into it with an open mind, wanting to be creative about how we build on the success the Devils have had and recognize that we all benefit from keeping them here. Even if, gosh forbid, you're not a hockey fan. Being a big hockey fan, I can't understand why anybody wouldn't be a hockey fan.”
The Devils, who moved into Albany after the Albany River Rats departed for Charlotte, N.C., finished their initial five-year contract this past season, and during that time never rose above 27th in the league of 30 teams in average attendance. Upon the completion of that contract, the Devils signed a one-year contract to keep them in Albany through the 2015-16 season. The short-term contract allows the Devils to keep options open in the near future.
This offseason, five teams that were based in the East but affiliated with western NHL teams moved to California to be nearer their parent clubs. Some of those were replaced with ECHL teams — one step down from the AHL. Those that were not may be looking to lure another AHL team to their venues. Also, teams whose current contracts expire at the end of next season, if they lose their AHL team, may also decide to court the Devils.
Belber said after the new contract was signed that the Devils have not said an increase in attendance must be seen if they are to consider a future contract. But the general manager hopes increasing the apparent interest in the team makes it less likely it will entertain other options for the 2016-17 season and beyond.
Sheehan has been a season-ticket holder since before she won the office of mayor.
“I like the fact that we're seeing players, some of whom are going to end up playing in the NHL,” she said. “That makes the NHL experience that much more interesting and exciting, to be able to say, ‘Hey, I saw this guy play for two or three seasons with the Albany Devils, and now he's playing for the New Jersey Devils.’ It's fast-paced, it's fun, and you get to see some really good hockey.”
Albany Devils Vice President of Communications Kevin Zalaznik said the meeting gives the Devils an opportunity to put their product in front of people who may not be familiar with it.
“For us to be able to get our organization and the American League in front of these people is definitely a positive,” he said. “Any opportunity that presents itself for us to showcase what we’re all about — on the ice and in the community — we’re graciously going to accept that opportunity. Our goal, every year, as it was in 2010-11 and now heading into 2015-16, is to continue to provide this area with an entertainment value, for them to be able to watch world-class hockey, and to support the community.”
Beyond the economic impact to the region, having professional sports in Albany is one more feather in a cap whose plumage can attract more businesses and people to the region, and that is part of the message that will be delivered at the meeting, officials said.
“We're seeing growth in private-sector jobs, we're seeing growth in the tech sector,” Sheehan said. “If we want to continue to attract people, we have to make sure we have all the different pieces in place that people are looking for when they're deciding where they're going to move to and where they're going to locate their businesses. That's part of the broader messaging we want to be able to communicate.”
To read more on a report on the Albany Devils' economic impact to the region, go to www.dailygazette.com/news/2015/apr/29/0429_devilsvalue/?dgzrg.