The window an expansion franchise to start play in Portland, ME in 2017-18 is beginning to close.
After the City of Portland and the Pirates franchise were $45,000 apart on a new lease, the Pirates left and moved to Springfield, MA after the end of the 2015-16 season, it made sense the city would become another ECHL market.
Talks were progressing on bringing an new ECHL franchise to the market for the ’17-18 season, to the point that Godfrey Wood (former GM & President of the Pirates) told the Portland Press Herald the group working to bring hockey to Portland had secured an out-of-state investor who could front at least a portion of the $750,000 expansion fee, a team had been contacted, and price worked out.
All of that though, is under a cloud of doubt.
According to a report by the Press Herald Tuesday night, the out-of-state investor backed out after meeting with Wood “three or four” times. Wood told the Press Herald he remains confident that hockey will be played in ’17-18, but an expansion franchise is becoming increasingly unlikely.
“We’re in conversations with a number of potential investors,” Wood said. “There is nothing definitive yet, but several people are looking hard at the situation.”
ECHL spokesman Joe Babik tells The Sin Bin so far, there has been no application for expansion by the prospective Portland franchise. But, the ECHL’s Board of Governors meet again at the end of next month to discuss league business, including potential expansion.
So, what’s next?
The prospect of moving a franchise exists, but which one?
Speculation immediately turns to the now-dark IceMen franchise, however, sources have indicated to The Sin Bin that Ron Geary has yet to sell the franchise. After a feasbililty study, Owensboro, KY city officials sent a letter to Geary indicating the city will not be using money from tax increment financing (or TIF) to build a new arena. This means the Owensboro Sportscenter would need to be renovated for hockey to be played in Owensboro, KY. Further complicating matters, Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne announced he is retiring at the end of the year and at the time of this writing, construction to renovate the Sports Center has yet to begin.
Babik says that if the Portland group were to buy an existing franchise and relocate it, the move would require the Board approving a Transfer of Controlling Interest and a Transfer of Home Territory. But again, the clock is ticking on getting a proposal in front of the league’s Board of Governors.
If and when the Portland franchise gets going, the Portland franchise will join Worcester, MA as new franchises starting play in the 2017-18 season. They would join the Elmira Jackals, Brampton Beast, Manchester Monarchs, Adirondack Thunder, and Reading Royals in the rapidly-growing northeast market for the ECHL.
Stay with The Sin Bin for more on this story.