WORCESTER, Mass. – The Manchester Monarchs franchise was officially laid to rest on Monday, following a long struggle to stay afloat after 18 years in the Granite State.
The death of the Monarchs comes months after the team was put up for sale, following a steady decline in fan attendance and interest in the past few seasons. The team was owned by PPI Sports since 2016, previously owned by Los Angeles Kings since its inception in 2001, and remained an affiliate until the team ceased operations.
Manchester had a thriving on-ice product, making the playoffs in all 18 seasons except for one, and highlighted success in 2015 with the franchise’s only Calder Cup victory. However, it was the beginning of the end for the Monarchs as the team headed into its inaugural season in the ECHL.
How Did They Get Here?
To no surprise, the cities involved in the franchise swaps in 2015 have all severed ties with the organizations that swapped AHL teams for ECHL ones. Manchester was the last city to sever ties with the team folding after four seasons.
In each of these cities, there were several concerns, but in particular how the AHL to ECHL switch was handled — essentially keeping the franchise and ticket prices, the same while the quality of play dropped down a level. Attendance in Manchester dropped by nearly 1,000 fans in their first season in the ECHL and another 1,000 in the next. In the four seasons the Monarchs were in the ECHL, attendance fell 46.8 percent.
It is believed by many that a rushed transition such as this to a different league is what killed the interest in Manchester. However, a season or two to change things like Worcester and Portland (Maine) would’ve made for a smooth transition.
With declining interest by fans and overall by the Kings organization after the first season in the new league, the team was sold to PPI Sports, LLC.
A divorce from the Los Angeles Kings would’ve been the next natural course of action for Manchester after securing a new owner, but that never came. The Adirondack Thunder split from Calgary the following season after becoming locally owned and went so far to change jerseys and color scheme. Adirondack also saw an attendance drop-off in their first season, but after some changes, those numbers have bounced back.
The Monarchs were listed for sale in late January of this year, but by April, the listing had been taken down. A decision to pull the plug on the Monarchs had been made, but fans looked for confirmation on whether the team would return.
The Monarchs were all but confirmed to return next season, with away dates posted by other teams that released their home schedules in early May. The South Carolina Stingrays released their home schedule which stemmed from the league’s official schedule, noting that they would host Manchester twice in January.
It appears that along with catching fans off-guard by announcing they would cease operations last week, it seems the league was also caught off-guard – with the Board of Governors voting to terminate Manchester’s membership the following Monday. As a result of the team closing up shop at the end of their season, it also forced the league to take a step back and has delayed the schedule release for next season.
What Comes Next?
In this writer’s opinion, Manchester is indeed a hockey city. However, there was no way the Monarchs would be able to make it through another season. The team listed 2,458 fans as its average attendance for the 2018-19 season, but as video evidence for most games this season, that number was generously inflated. In its current state, the Manchester market isn’t stable but could stabilize with time and effort by local ownership and the City of Manchester.
With some dates now freed up on the event calendar for the foreseeable future, the City can help attract a new ownership group by investing in their arena. Some upgrades are needed for the SNHU Arena such as a new scoreboard, lighting, and a new ice plant, all of which are dated, having been in place since the arena was built in the early 2000s.
For fans, their closest dose of minor league hockey can be found a little over an hour away – 75 miles to see the Railers play in Worcester or 95 miles to see the Mariners play in Portland. The Queen City will need to embrace the ECHL level as all opportunities for another AHL team anywhere in New England have set sail.
Manchester is about fifty miles north of Boston and about a hundred miles north of Providence, so maybe an affiliation with the Bruins organization could give Manchvegas the boost it needs to become a hockey city again.
Finding the most appropriate fit with a franchise being built from the ground-up for replacing the Monarchs’ franchise should be a top priority for both the ECHL and the City of Manchester in the years to come.
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