Godfrey Wood, the lead investor of a group seeking to establish a new hockey team in Portland, said the group will buy an existing team and move it here in time for the 2017-18 season.
Wood, who was general manager and president of the Portland Pirates when that American Hockey League team was established in Portland and the former chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it will be less expensive to buy an existing franchise and move it to Portland than to buy an expansion club.
An expansion team in the ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, would cost $750,000, Wood said. He declined to say what team he and his investors will buy or how much it will cost, other than to say it will be less than the fee for an expansion team.
An existing team provides “a better time schedule for us and better pricing,” Wood said.
The prospective team has already been contacted and a price worked out, Wood said, but the sale won’t be completed until a lease to play at Cross Insurance Arena is finished and the rest of his investor group is assembled. In early May, Wood had indicated that he preferred to seek an expansion team and said at the time that he thought that would be the cheaper route.
Wood is negotiating a lease with the trustees of the county-owned arena. If successful, the ECHL team would replace the Pirates franchise, which was sold in May to a group from Springfield, Massachusetts, where the team will play the 2016-2017 season. He said negotiations are going well, but declined to speculate on when a deal might be reached or whether he has a deadline.
Wood said he is talking with other potential investors, whom he declined to identify.
“It’s a number of people who are in various stages of discussion,” said Wood, who is executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland.
Wood said he has approached the city of Portland about “relief” on parking rates and rent for office space, currently occupied by the Pirates, in a city-owned building next to the arena.
The ECHL is considered the third tier of professional hockey, behind the National Hockey League and the AHL. Wood has previously said the new team would likely charge about $8 for a single-game ticket, less than half of the $18 that the Pirates charged last season. Although that means less ticket revenue, it could lead to higher attendance and thus more money from concessions.
There are other significant financial differences between the ECHL and AHL teams. AHL teams pay an $800,000 annual fee to their affiliated NHL team, but there are no such fees for ECHL teams. Also, the ECHL teams pay for player housing, travel and equipment, but a salary cap limits the payroll to $12,500 a week.
Wood said the style of play in the ECHL is fast-paced and fan-pleasing.
“It’s a good product,” he said.
Neal Pratt, a trustee of Cross Insurance Arena who is heading the committee negotiating with Wood, agreed that the talks are going well, although the two sides haven’t dealt with finances in depth yet.
He said an ECHL team might be a better fit for the city. For instance, the lack of the affiliation fee and the salary cap gives the team owners more control over finances.
“The ECHL is far simpler and less restrictive,” Pratt said. “That creates a cleaner and, potentially, more sustainable model.”
Pratt also noted that more AHL teams are moving west, while the ECHL has a team in Manchester, New Hampshire, and a new team is scheduled to begin play this year in Worcester, Massachusetts. That could create regional rivalries and reduce travel expenses for some of the games.
Shortly after the Pirates’ move was announced, Pratt said the arena had been contacted by more than one ECHL team about possibly moving to Portland. But this week, he said the negotiations with Wood are the only active talks under way.