03/27/2012 7:00 AM
A Conversation with the ECHL Commissioner
Brian McKenna discusses the future of hockey out West
ONTARIO, Calif. - ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna visited Ontario Friday night as part of his annual tour of the league. McKenna has overseen the league’s expansion to the West coast since being named President/CEO in 2002. We took advantage of the opportunity to ask him a few Questions about the ECHL.
Q: What brings you to Ontario?
McKenna: I’m on my annual tour. I try to get around every year and visit the teams, get a business update, and see what’s happening from a front office point of view. I also stay over and watch a game and check out the quality of play on the ice.
Q: What’s the league perspective on its expansion to the West?
McKenna: We’re very happy with the way things have gone out here. Certainly in Ontario they’ve done a great job since they’ve been in the league. We’re fortunate in the West that we’ve got good markets, good ownership and management, and a lot of new modern facilities. It make it very easy to attract fans to come out to see the product on the ice when you’ve got a world-class facility. The attendance numbers show that year after year, the teams in the West have done a very good job of putting people in the building and then entertaining those fans.
Q: How is the San Francisco Stampede team coming along?
McKenna: There’s a lot of work to go between now and October, but they’ve got a full staff in place and are trying to build a season ticket and sponsorship base. They’ll get that in place over the course of the next six months. It’s a crowded market with lots of other things to do, but we know there’s a base of hockey fans there and they’re working hard to try to attract them. In terms of Western geography, it’s a good fit for the conference, especially for the teams here in California. They’re a good rivalry for Stockton, Bakersfield, and Ontario so in that respect we’re excited as well.
Q: Will the addition of the Stampede change the playoffs?
McKenna: In all likelihood we’ll be able to go back to eight out of nine making it next year, not having that bye in the first round which puts everyone on fairer ground when it comes to competing in the playoffs. That’s the way it looks right now. From a league perspective I think that would be a positive.
Q: Are there any other markets to which the league is looking to expand?
McKenna: At some point we’d like to be back in San Diego. It’s a question there of finding the right ownership group. We’re still interested in Reno. We’ve got an ownership group there that would like to put a team there for sure. There’s nothing really firm on markets beyond that. I think it depends on where arenas are located and getting the proper ownership. We don’t want to expand for the sake of expansion. We want to do it in a very measured fashion and if we go into a market to do it with the right amount of lead time, a good business plan, and hopefully the ability to succeed for the long term.
Q: Any chance of having some inter-conference play next season?
McKenna: We do that on a volunteer basis. If teams on the West want to go East or vice versa, certainly we’ll try to build that into the schedule. Some of that is dependent upon if you’ve got an odd number of teams. It’s more likely next year that that may happen because with an odd number of teams that means that on a Friday or Saturday night somebody probably has ice, but no one to play. So that makes it a little easier to perhaps persuade a team from the East to come West on a little bit of a swing. We would like to see more of that from a league perspective. We know that the fans enjoy it and like the variety. It also gives fans the opportunity over the course of a season to see how their team stacks up against some of the better teams from the other conference which is always fun as well.
Q: And the All-Star game will be back next season?
McKenna: The All-Star game will be back celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ECHL and also next year will be 10 years of professional hockey in Colorado, so they’re excited to host it in January. I’m sure they’ll do a first-class event. The bar has been raised pretty high here as Ontario and Bakersfield did an excellent job of hosting the game.