Increasing media attention is being paid to the precarious position of the AHL’s Albany Devils, and the question of whether or not they will have to relocate – perhaps to Glens Falls, NY.
The details of the Devil’s plight, and the interest displayed by the mayor of Glens Falls have been well documented by the media, and even other AHL squads have commented on the situation (although the team blog in question has since disappeared).
In short, the team owns a terrible attendance record recently, ranking last in AHL average attendance in both of the past two seasons, with fewer than 3 500 fans in each year. The team has three years remaining on a five-year deal with the Times Union Center, but there is an out clause that can be activated this December. So the Devils will play in Albany this coming season, but where they play in 2013-14 is undecided.
Even if the good citizens of Albany may be in danger of losing their team, how concerned is the AHL?
AHL Relocation Facts
While the death or movement of an NHL franchise is a rare event – particularly under Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch – the AHL is far different than the stately NHL. The AHL structure is far more fluid and franchises’ life-cycles can be far shorter (although the Hersey Bears have been going strong since 1938).
In the past ten years 11 AHL franchises have relocated, five have suspended operations, while another six have resumed operations.
For example, in the past ten years, 11 AHL franchises have relocated, five have suspended operations, six have resumed operations, two teams have been added through expansion, two have switched names while remaining in place, and the Quebec Citadelles even merged with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2003, only to splinter away a year later as the Toronto Road Runners.
Conversely, the NHL has seen exactly one franchise relocate in its past ten years, with the league seemingly doing everything it can to keep the clearly unviable Phoenix Coyotes in place, including taking ownership of the franchise itself.
So is the Devils’ Story Big News?
The people of Albany have enjoyed hosting an AHL team for 20 years, and no doubt some of them would regard the loss of the current team as the community’s loss.
But the AHL has shown that it’s quite comfortable with a more natural position on its membership, allowing teams to come and go as the market dictates.
Keep in mind, however, the league worked hard to grow to 30 teams so that each NHL squad could have access to a dedicated AHL affiliate. So while the league may appear casual by comparison with the NHL when it comes to franchise relocation, the AHL would be far more concerned about a team that threatened to hang ‘em up for good, vice just relocating.
Change is normal in the AHL; fans more accustomed to the NHL’s stability shouldn’t expect AHL President David Andrews to interfere Bettman-style.
AHL franchises have to work hard to succeed, and sometimes even then change is needed.
Just consider it part of the excitement.