The diehard hockey fans of the Quad-Cities are going to despise this idea.
Absolutely hate it. They’ll view it as heresy, blasphemy, sacrilege, fake news. All of the above.
Nevertheless, I really wonder if we shouldn’t just let professional hockey make a quiet exit from the Quad-Cities.
Quad-City Mallards owner Jordan Melville announced Tuesday that he plans to close down his franchise, marking another relapse in a 15-year struggle to keep hockey alive here.
While the fate of hockey in the Quad-Cities has skated on thin ice many times before — sorry about the pun — this time it really looks serious.
It really appears we might not have hockey next season, although there are plenty of people who aren’t willing to let it go.
There even is a crowd-funding effort being launched through Indiegogo.com to raise $1 million to keep hockey alive in the Quad-Cities.
The plea expressed by the backers of this campaign: "How one of the most successful Minor League hockey teams can just go away thanks to poor money management by owners shouldn't destroy a cities favorite past time. That is why the fans must step up and own it literally own the team they love. Other fan owned teams don't do to bad just look at the Green Bay Packers."
You really have to applaud the tenacity — if not the literary skills — of these folks, but this is a totally fanciful idea.
First of all, it’s hard to blame Melville for pulling the plug. If I lost $4 million in five years, I’d be slamming on the brakes, too. At least he intends to take care of his financial obligations, which puts him way ahead of some of our past minor league sports moguls who left lengthy trails of unpaid bills.
Secondly, what is a million dollars going to accomplish? That’s about what Melville lost every year. It’s not nearly enough, even if you could raise that much.
And if the Mallards are the Quad-Cities’ "favorite past time," as they say, why did they only draw 3,300 fans per game this season?
As for this idea of becoming the Green Bay Packers of minor league hockey, the concept of fan ownership hasn’t worked anywhere in this country outside of northeast Wisconsin and minor league baseball, where the player procurement duties are handled by the major league affiliate.
There are a couple of minor league soccer teams that are fan-owned, but that’s about it. It won’t work.
Even if some multi-millionaire stepped forward today with the cash to buy this team, the Mallards (or whatever the team might be called) would no longer be part of the ECHL next season. That ship has sailed.
That means any team we have next season would need to become part of some other league, and none of the available options is ideal.
There is the Southern Professional Hockey League, which currently includes the Peoria Rivermen, but most of the rest of the league is strewn across the deep south.
From a geography standpoint, the United States Hockey League makes much more sense. It already has teams in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque, Des Moines and many surrounding states, and there reportedly will soon be a team in the Iowa City area.
But that’s Tier I junior hockey. It’s high school-age kids playing at a high level — every year the USHL has about 30 players selected in the NHL draft — but are the local fans who cherished the grizzled goonery of the old Colonial Hockey League going to embrace that?
And with so many other franchises in the league in close proximity, is there a danger of reaching a saturation point for junior hockey in this region?
So what’s going to happen out of all this?
Here is what should happen: Maybe we should just live without hockey for a year or two until a plan can be hatched to bring it back on sound footing. We’ve had plenty of Band-aids through the years. Bring it back in a year or two with a realistic business model so we can have a healthy franchise that will live a long and happy life.
I know that’s not what the diehards want to hear. But why nickel and dime our way into something that’s going to be on life support again a year from now?
In farming vernacular, let this thing go fallow. If you don’t plant anything for a year or two, it’s amazing how fertile land can become when you come back to sprinkle some seeds later on.
Maybe a season or two without hockey will make some of the marginal fans in the community appreciate what they had. There are a few thousand diehards who will come to the games no matter what the on-ice product looks like. The hockey franchise that becomes truly successful here is going to be the one that captures the imagination of thousands of people who don't live and breathe the sport.
Look at the apparent fervor that has been prompted by the return of indoor football following a nine-year absence from the local scene. We don’t know yet if the newly revived Quad-City Steamwheelers are going to be a rousing success, but they’ve at least stirred up some initial interest.
Maybe it could be the same way with hockey.
If it disappears for a year or two, maybe it will become a novelty again, the way it was in the 1990s when the sport really flourished here.