When Jon Pritchett made the decision to purchase the nearly-defunct Quad-City Mallards from former owner Eric Karls in June, he knew he and his partners had a massive project on their hands.
He didn't know things would be quite as challenging as they have been, but Pritchett and his partners remain optimistic. They never expected they would make the Mallards financially successful overnight, and they believe they've started to turn the team toward a brighter future.
"There are encouraging trends," Pritchett said. "In attendance and group sales, we're improving over last year. To be frank, I think the franchise was a little further down than we realized, so it's really been challenging from a financial standpoint.
"There was a lot of damage done. It's a lot more expensive to get the business turned around than we anticipated, but we knew it was going to be expensive and would take a while."
Pritchett said several of the problems his ownership group has faced can be traced to the instability that existed with the Mallards before Club 9 Sports arrived and the lack of time the team had before the season began.
When Club 9 took over, Pritchett and his partners quickly realized that the Mallards' habit of a questionable future had eroded the team's corporate support, which still is near the bottom of the league.
Worse, Club 9 bought the team four months before training camp, leaving coach and general manager David Bell with little time to put together a team and the Mallards little time to sell tickets.
The lack of time cost the team's bottom line, but fortunately for the Mallards, Bell was able to overcome it. Despite having no players under contract June 17, the Mallards are a point ahead of last year's All-Star break mark and on pace to improve on last year's total by 12 points.
"We're very excited about what David has done as coach," Pritchett said. "He's done exactly what he's said he would do, which is put a really exciting, offensive-minded brand of hockey on the ice.
"Even if you don't win all the time, you're always going to get an effort that's fun to see. I think the fans appreciate it."
Pritchett's challenge is to increase that number who witness the effort. The Mallards rank ninth in the 14-team CHL in attendance, the lowest number among teams averaging above 3,000 people.
However, the play of the Mallards and their continued presence in the community has gradually built those numbers. Pritchett cited the hiring of executive vice president Ryan Simmons as a step in the right direction, as well as the high number of community events the Mallards have taken part in.
"That will pay dividends down the road," Pritchett said. "That helps build relationships, which build partnerships and get groups out. Everything is integrated."
The key is whether or not the Mallards continue their upward trend as the years pass with Club 9 in charge. Pritchett said his group knew from the beginning that the second year - and its first real offseason - would be crucial in determining if they will be able to grow their product and make the Mallards succeed.
However, although Pritchett admitted that things have to improve over time for things to work, he believes it will happen over a period of three to five years.
For now, he remains as committed to the Q-C market as he was in June when he made the announcement that the Mallards were back.
"I think we still have a long way to go, but we're glad we're here," Pritchett said. "We like the Quad-Cities and we like the opportunity. It's just that there was a really big hole, so there's a lot of mountain to climb."