With the Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area's extensive hockey history, it's difficult to imagine that pro hockey won't return to the area, but will it?
The Albuquerque Hockey Examiner compiled a list of the reasons why professional ice hockey won't make it in New Mexico and what will have to change to make the sport successful in the area.
Why professional hockey won't make it in the Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area (and why it just might succeed):
New Mexico simply doesn't have an experienced fan base. People here don't understand the sport of hockey and a professional team of any kind simply can't compete with university athletics, especially football or basketball. The adverstising and marketing for professional hockey in the past three seasons have been so poor that many residents of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho didn't even know a hockey team existed in the area.
New Mexico may not have a large, experienced hockey fan base, but it does have a fan base and there is a potential to grow that fan base. A core group of fans in the Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area have continually turned out to watch professional hockey in the community. The Scorpions regularly drew decent sized crowds, especially for games played over the weekend. The New Mexico Renegades, the area's Junior A team, sold over 200 season tickets and the University of New Mexico's hockey program draws between 200 and 300 fans a game. There are also two successful amateur and youth programs being run in the area (at Blades Multiplex in Rio Rancho and at the Outpost Ice Arena in Albuquerque) The metro area is home to a population of transplants from other areas of the country - including areas where hockey is regularly played.
Advertising, marketing and fan education are essential to making a new hockey venture successful in this community. A new ownership group who is willing to spend a little money to make some money would be the best thing that could happen for a revival of the professonal franchise. And, as far as that perceived threat from the University of New Mexico athletics? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Quit fighting the University and work with them to increase attendance and excitement for all sporting events in the area.
New Mexico's latest professional team, the New Mexico Scorpions, have gone dark twice in their thirteen year history. With two failed pro teams in the past several years, can a new franchise survive in the area? There's simply been too much controversy with the past ownership of the Scorpions franchise and that controversy has left a bad taste in the mouths of fans and businesses in the area. New Mexico fans have been witness to several scandals surrounding their pro hockey club including allegations of a former player that he was being illegally paid under the table, a past owner who is known on the Albuquerque business scene to have a shady reputation, ownership fighting with the arena landlords, and most recently the selling of team assets and equipment to pay back wages. Will a fan base that has been witness to so many controversies come out to support a new team?
Quite probably. Fans miss pro hockey in the area and with a professional, stable, and reliable ownership group, pro hockey could have quite a revival. Paying fans want to come out to see good hockey and to be entertained. If the new ownership and management treat fans fairly, price tickets right, and put an entertaining product on the ice, they could see an increase in attendance.
New Mexico is a desireable location for a Central Hockey League (CHL) team with several close, geographic rivals in the Arizona Sundogs, Colorado Eagles, and the Amarillo Gorillas.
The Albuquerque Hockey Examiner, however, does think that it's time to retire the Scorpions name and mascot. Having a completely fresh start just might help to get that bad taste out of the fans' mouths a bit more quickly.
The team moved out of Albuquerque and left for Rio Rancho and attendance has declined. The arena is hard to get to and is a longer drive for most fans in the Albuquerque area. Plus, the area in which the arena was built is barren; there are no restaurants, bars or hotels in the vicinity.
It's true that arena's location is not ideal, but the arena is new and it was built for hockey. A new facility should make it easier for a team to recruit talent, and hey, the Albuquerque/Rio Rancho area is not the worst place to live (especially when looking at the location of some other CHL teams). In addition, having a winning team on the ice and entertainment during the intermissions would make fans more likely to make the drive to Rio Rancho. That said, new owners would be smart to work with the casinos in the area to offer a park and ride service to the arena.
What do you think? What will it take for professional hockey to be successful in the area?
Click here for the Central Hockey League's take on professional hockey in the metro area.