SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A report out of Arizona says the Springfield Falcons are losing their NHL parent club next season. That could leave Springfield without an American Hockey League franchise.
Arizonasports.com is reporting that the Arizona Coyotes will move their AHL affiliate to Tuscon, Arizona. The team will join the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division. The report also says the Coyotes are closing in on a deal to buy a AHL franchise. It did not mention which franchise.
The Springfield Falcons currently have an affiliation agreement with the Coyotes that runs through the 2017-2018 season.
The Falcons won’t make the playoffs this season and have three games left. Saturday and Sunday’s games will be at the MassMutual Center. The Falcons are last in the AHL in attendance this season, averaging just 3105 fans per game. Depending on how the final two games draw, that could be the lowest attendance in franchise history.
When the Falcons were suffering through financial problems in 2010, Charlie Pompea bought the team. Pompea gave hockey fans hope that the Falcons would remain here long-term. Just not enough fans have returned the favor. The Falcons haven’t averaged more than 4,000 fans a game since 2002-2003. 20 teams this season averaged more than 5,000 fans a game. 24 of the 30 teams average more than 4,000 fans a game.
Springfield ended a nine-year playoff drought in 2012-13 and made the playoffs again in 2013-2014.
There are several scenarios:
- Arizona honors its contract with Springfield and returns next season.
- Arizona moves its franchise to Tuscon by purchasing the Falcons, thus Springfield would not have a AHL team.
- Springfield secures another NHL affiliation allowing Arizona to move on.
- Arizona does not honor its contract and moves its affiliate to Tucson.
- The NHL awards Las Vegas an expansion franchise. That franchise would be playing at MGM’s new arena in Las Vegas. MGM using their Springfield connection would make Springfield its AHL affiliate. That could mean a year without a hockey team in Springfield, but a long-term agreement with a franchise.
The NHL is considering expansion for the 2017-18 season. MGM in its host agreement with Springfield agreed to be a “major” sponsor of the Springfield Falcons and Armor after the casino opens. The Armor has already left town. MGM is also bidding on running the MassMutual Center with Spectra by Comcast Spectacor, so there are several reasons why the casino company would want to keep that arena filled for the 40 games the Falcons bring each year.
22News has asked the Falcons for some answers, but have not heard back as of yet. We’ll continue to update this story as we get new information.