Hockey was on the agenda of the September 26 meeting of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority.
Members of the authority heard a report on the feasibility of bringing hockey back to the Garden City, prepared by David Stone of Stone Planning, LLC.
Stone said since a local team would likely be affiliated with the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), his team looked at the 29 teams currently in that league. Eight of the teams were eliminated because they are in large cities that have other professional sports teams such as Atlanta.
“So, of those markets, we focused on three in particular, the closest literally and figuratively, is Savannah,” he explained. “We had access to a lot of information on this one because of OVG’s involvement in the arena and the team owner, being the potential owner that has been identified, should there be a team here.”
OVG is Oak View Group, LLC, the California-based company that manages the Augusta Entertainment Complex (AEC).
Stone said the Savannah Ghost Pirates is a brand new team, just one year in operation. It is playing in the Enmarket Arena.
“They’re starting their second year this season, been very successful, sold out almost every game last year, set a League record for season ticket sales before they even played their first game. And the arena’s premium seats are sold out with a waiting list,” he said.
Stone said his team spent time contacting stakeholders in metro Augusta to get their input on bringing hockey back to Augusta. They met with elected leaders, Chambers of Commerce, Destination Augusta, and the Augusta Sports Council.
“We heard a wide range of opinions and thoughts on the matter,” he said. “Some of the things that I think to me kind of jumped out or were repeated multiple times is how much the market has changed with the influx of people coming from all over the country, a lot of northern markets, a lot of western and midwestern markets, and how it’s changed the demographics of the market.”
He said they were told people and families are looking for more recreational and entertainment opportunities, things to do with the whole family. They also heard from downtown business owners.
“For hockey, we heard how much the additional 36+ hockey games per year can help downtown businesses,” he said. “We also kind of made a point to ask every group what does it mean for a team to be successful here, what would have to happen? And we heard that the team would have to really invest in the community and really connect to the community, which is really part of the formula of success in minor league sports in general.”
Cedric Johnson, chairman of the Coliseum Authority, said members will analyze the roughly 40-page study to determine if a hockey team would succeed in Augusta.
“We do know that there are some very vocal fans of hockey, and we understand that. But you know, there are a lot of details we need to look at and different things that we need to work out with OVG,” he said. “So, let me say everything is on the table. We’re not opposed to hockey; I want to make sure everybody understands that. But again, the truth is, it will be in the details.”
The JBA has been home to two hockey teams in Augusta. The most recent was the Augusta Riverhawks. The team played in the Southern Professional Hockey League from 2010 to 2013. Augusta was also home to an ECHL team for about 10 years. The Augusta Lynx began playing in the 1998-1999 season. It folded midway during the 2008-2009 season. During its run, Augusta fans built the reputation of being the “loudest house” in the league.