Evansville's Hockey Team in Jeopardy
EVANSVILLE, IN - The Evansville IceMen, proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL's Ottawa Senators and AHL's Binghamton Senators, have enjoyed providing the excitement of professional hockey to the City of Evansville at the Ford Center. The IceMen are most particularly appreciative of the fans, the IceMen Maniacs and valued season ticket holders. The IceMen have also enjoyed the use of the City's state of the art facility and plan on bringing a championship trophy through its doors very soon. However, Evansville stands to lose its hockey team.
"When we signed our lease for the Ford Center in 2011 we had already moved 22 families to Evansville based on some good faith negotiations with the City. After we moved those families, and at the last minute, we were presented with different terms and told to sign or lose the opportunity. We signed a lease that was not in our best interest, but we have honored it. Now that lease is set to expire and we need to be treated fairly in the new lease," said Ron Geary, owner of the IceMen. "The current lease and price threaten our ability to bring our fans a premier ice hockey team and at the same time run a business," said Geary.
In order to have a team for the 2016-2017 season, the IceMen must have a lease in place with the City and dates of games to the league no later than December 1, 2015. The IceMen started negotiations on the new lease with the Mayor's office in February. The City has proposed no terms to the IceMen for the new lease. "The ECHL conducted a study for the 2011-2012 season showing the IceMen paid the highest rent in the entire league - $650,000. The median for the league is about $152,000." said Jim Riggs, IceMen COO. "The City receives about $1.2 million each season for IceMen games in rent and food and beverage net income," said Riggs.
The team has lost money every year. "I don't mind investing in the team and in the City, but after spending millions with no return on the investment we need a lease that is fair and does not take advantage of the IceMen. The only reason we lose money is because we have the worst lease in the league," said Geary. "At the same time, we have the best fans in the league so we are going to continue to try and get something reasonable even though the Mayor's office has been pretty tough to work with over the years. We tried to renegotiate in the past but got nowhere," said Geary. The City put a clause in the lease that if the IceMen even tried to renegotiate in the first two years of the lease the IceMen would have to pay the City's legal fees. "Bottom line, I want a championship team here in Evansville. But we cannot continue to operate in financial loss because of an overpriced lease," said Geary.
"We are going to do everything possible to provide the City and fans a great team for the 2016-2017 season. We hope we give our fans what they have come to expect - a premier hockey team and a great game day experience. We remain hopeful we can achieve great things on the ice and eventually bring a championship to the City," said Riggs. The IceMen will not sign another lease with such high rent. Without a lease and dates, the league will move forward in 2016-2017 without the Evansville IceMen. "We hope that is unnecessary but it remains a reality," said Geary. "Our attempts to negotiate over the past 40 weeks have resulted in nothing. We are going public because deadlines are approaching and the fans need to know what Evansville stands to lose. We need our fans support. We need the City to get reasonable, start negotiating in earnest and get this lease in place," he said.
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