One of the worst seasons in the history of the Quad-City Mallards could potentially be the last.
Team owner Jordan Melville announced Tuesday on the Dwyer and Michaels’ morning radio show on 97X that he is ceasing team operations after the end of the season, another tough chapter for a franchise that started out as one of the most successful in minor league hockey 23 years ago.
"I love the sport, I love everything about it but at some point, the passion for me has been lost," Melville told the Quad-City Times. "Not because of the market, not because of the team, not because of the league, just because of the way life worked out.
"There's no guarantees in business, just as there's no guarantees in sports. Sometimes you just have to give up."
Melville has been the sole owner of the team since 2013. He originally had stock in the team while an owner of the Central Hockey League, which bought the Mallards in 2012 when the team was facing financial difficulty. After having several opportunities to sell the team, Melville and his company, at the time T&M Group of Companies, now Melville Global, chose to retain ownership.
"We appreciated everything Jordan did and the commitment he made here," TaxSlayer Center executive director Scott Mullen said. "They've been great partners and we wish them all the best."
Under Melville's ownership, the Mallards made the playoffs in four straight seasons, but are 20-37-4, on pace for their worst finish in franchise history.
"We're from a league perspective very disappointed. Quad-City, we think has a good hockey tradition, there's certainly a great base of fans there and we've appreciated their support over the years," ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said. "I know it's been a tough go of it from the time he came in there ... but we were hopeful he would continue. He's made the decision and certainly we respect that."
In the last 14 months, the team fired head coach Terry Ruskowski, team president and general manager Bob McNamara and director of hockey operations Jon Piche.
Despite all that, Melville said he continued to be invested in the team's future until recently. He met with the mayors of the Quad-Cities in February to discuss the future of the team in this market and had a multi-year lease agreement in the works with the TaxSlayer Center.
However, personal issues in the past two weeks changed things dramatically.
Darryl Porter is a longtime friend of the Melville family and had been involved with ticket sales and growing team revenue since the Mallards fired McNamara in January.
Melville was planning for Porter to take on an even bigger role next season but recently discovered Porter had a recurrence of pancreatic cancer, of which he is a survivor.
The news was the breaking point for Melville, who made the decision on the Mallards last Tuesday.
"That was the final thing. when we realized Darryl was no longer going to be able to help us at all," Melville said. "It was a business decision on a lot of levels ... but the emotional toll really made us ask ourselves if it was something we had the heart to continue.
"We had to make that decision, the right decision for us, and for our business was to say we tried our best and don't feel like we can continue."
Melville recognizes that there are plenty of qualified individuals who could have taken the job in Porter's stead but said emotionally it wasn't worth the investment.
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"There were options but it really came down to a question of whether we still had the heart, did I still have the heart?" Melville said. "It did turn out to be more than we were willing to take on."
Even with the emotional side not factored in, it’s been hard justifying the cost of owning a minor league hockey team.
Melville estimates he will lose close to $1 million this season and figures he’s lost at least $4 million since he bought the team.
Although corporate sales were up this season, Melville said they weren't where they needed to be after five years of work.
"The benefits to the community for sponsoring the team, obviously the business community didn't see that it was there," Melville said. "We were about half of where we should have been compared to the rest of the league in terms of corporate sponsor dollars.
"From a business decision, we looked at how much we've been able to move these numbers around and how much we had to continue to move them. At some point, you've got to say it isn't going to happen."
Melville recognizes there are other options besides shutting down a team in a market that has had some form of professional hockey for 23 years.
The Mallards signed a three-year extension with the ECHL in December. In order to break that affiliation, Melville said he will have to pay the league $250,000. Melville looked into moving the team to another league such as the Southern Professional Hockey League but according to Melville that decision would have cost an additional $250,000.
The league declined to comment on any financial aspects but did say that Melville always kept the Mallards in good standing.
Melville even inquired about the possibility of taking a hiatus for either two or three years and then return to the ECHL, but the league denied that request.
"We don't have provisions where you can simply take a year or two off, maintain your membership and come back at some point in the future at an indefinite date and operate," McKenna said. "You're either in the league as a full member in good standing or not."
Melville is open to selling the team before the end of the season but says he has never received an offer in his tenure as owner.
"If someone else wants to have the team, they're welcome to have it, they're welcome to take a shot at it," Melville said. "If there's someone who thinks they can do it better than I can, there's probably somebody out there that can make it work, but at some point I have to look at the numbers and how much they're moving year over year and realize this number is never going to get to where it needs to be without some major change in the market."
The Mallards are also not the only investment for Melville. Melville Global owns Mr. Lube, Canada's largest quick lube franchise. Melville is also a partner in the Vancouver-based BrandLive, which produces several entertainment events, including an upcoming music festival in September that Melville has been involved with organizing.
Without Porter, Melville admitted his commitment level to the Mallards couldn't be what was needed to keep the team operating the way he wanted.
The team will close out the season on April 7 at home against the Cincinnati Cyclones. Melville said the team plans to settle all debts as quickly as possible.
"The fans shouldn't notice anything different except for the end of a season," Melville said. "We'll play our game and at the end of that game we'll start packing up like we usually would at the end of the season but we just don't unpack again.
"We'll make sure all of our bills are paid and that nobody is left holding the bag for our unfortunate financial inability to make this thing make sense. We'll make sure we leave the town with our heads held high."
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