The Alaska Aces announced they will cease operations at the end of the season, ending a 14-year run in the nation’s northernmost state.
The Aces have been one of the ECHL’s most decorated team’s during its history, winning four straight Brabham Cup titles and five overall (emblematic of the regular season champion) and three Kelly Cup titles (tied for most with South Carolina.)
“It’s probably one of the toughest business decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Terry Parks, managing member of a five-man local ownership group, told the Anchorage Daily News.
KTUU-TV reports that the team has been going through financial difficulties over the past several years. Just this season, the Aces have lost more money than the past two combined. The Aces sponsorships are down $600,000, season ticket sales down $262,000 and attendance is down about 1,500 spectators per game. Considering Alaska’s current fiscal situation, the Aces believe this downward trend will continue.
Another member of the Aces Managing staff, Jerry Mackie, told KTUU that future of the franchise, outside of Anchorage remains up in the air.
“There are other cities in the United States that want to have a team, and many of those are new expansion cities or cities that have had teams in the past. We will explore if there is opportunity to sell the team somewhere else but the thought of not having the Alaska Aces in Alaska anymore is really, really hard for us to come to grips with and we feel really bad about that,” Mackie said.
This has seen the attendance at Sullivan Arena to fall from an average attendance of 4,619 at the end of the 2013-14 season to 3,386 following the 2015-16 season.
On top of that, there are many other factors working against the Aces. When the California teams moved over to the AHL, it made the Idaho Steelheads their closest rival in the ECHL with distance from Anchorage to Boise being just over 2,700 miles. Travel alone for the Aces have been estimated at over $300,000 a year.
Problems in Alaska hockey didn’t start with the Aces, however. This past summer, the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks faced losing one or both of their hockey organizations due to the budget cuts happening in Alaska. Both teams were able to survive for this year, but their futures past this season is on very shaky ground unless things in the state can turnaround.
The Aces are on a 10-game roadtrip and will play tonight in Elmira, NY. They will play their final regular-season home game at Sullivan Arena on April 8th.
The Sin Bin’s Scotty Wazz contributed to this report