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Hockey in Macon is doable

The Ice Age returns to the Midstate in a somewhat different form. Macon is getting another hockey team and they have their neighbors from Augusta to thank. Last week, the Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted to approve a resolution that will have pucks flying in the Coliseum in 2015.

While things would not get started until Fall of 2015, the potential ownwership will have time to get things going.

Kevin Dowdell, director of sales and marketing for the Macon Centreplex -- which includes the coliseum, convention center and City Auditorium -- told the Macon Telegraph and WMAZ-TV that all documents for the rental agreement have to be in place by Tuesday and said that the Southern Professional Hockey League only authorized Macon to host a franchise last week.

“Now it’s just approval from our end,” Dowdell said at a commission meeting Tuesday afternoon. “(The team) would like to make an announcement as early as next week.”

If all is approved, a local office could open in July, but the first games wouldn’t be played in the coliseum until fall 2015, he said, which will will allow time to get local sponsors on board and whip up enthusiasm, Dowdell said.

The Augusta team, named the RiverHawks, would be renamed the Macon Mayhem. The Augusta franchise was established in 2010
but they haven’t been able to play in Augusta’s James Brown Arena home since February 2013 due to problems with the ice system. That problem led to a legal dispute by fans over reimbursement for eight canceled home games and a canceled 2014 season, so RiverHawks owners Bob and Diane Kerzner told the Augusta Chronicle in October that they were considering moving the team to a new city.

The tentative five-year rental agreement guarantees the team at least 32 Fridays and Saturdays from October through March, at $2,820 per game or $98,240 and the team would retain all ticket sales revenue. Proceeds from concessions and parking would go to the coliseum, not the team, Centreplex Manager Mark Butcher said.

The RiverHawks are part of the Southern Professional Hockey League, which began in 2004 and now has nine active teams, including the Columbus Cottonmouths.

This would be the city's third venture into hockey. Macon was home to the minor-league Macon Whoopees during the 1973-74 season and profession hockey didn’t return to Macon until the slightly renamed Macon Whoopee arrived in town and played from 1996-2002. After its departure, the Macon Trax played hockey here from 2002-2005. During the Trax’s final season, the team was a member of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Macon needs revenue and even if those that work in concessions, ticket sales, game day staff, et al only work during the season, that means tax money for the city. Macon needs sports and if this group that will be coming in can get the ball rolling in the right direction, then other teams could see the success that could take place. While other cities in the state that are the same size as Macon have teams, Macon sits on the sidelines. There is interest in hockey in Macon and if those fans buy season tickets and tell their friends and bring them to the games, they would become ticket holders themselves.

Some Southerners don't understand hockey but it's not that hard to follow or learn. Granted, there won't be any high school teams in the Macon area playing hockey because of the expense of equipment and ice time but it would be worth the wait. The wait until 2015 would be plenty of time to get office staff together, sponsors, equipment for the office and to get the name out. Macon by reputation is a word of mouth town and that doesn't work very well. This group needs to hit the ground running by visiting schools, churches, civic groups, et al, to get the puck rolling.

It's time for Macon to get out of the penalty box it's been in and move forward.

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