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Editors note: The following is a letter from United Hockey League (UHL) President/CEO Richard Brosal regarding the City of Rockford and the MetroCentres recent announcement regarding their plans to acquire the Rockford IceHogs name and trademark and bring an American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks to Rockford.
November 14, 2006
Rockford City & County Council
The Honorable Mayor
Citizens of the Greater Rockford Area
To Whom It May Concern:
I hope this letter finds you all doing well. I find myself in a very awkward situation. On one hand, I dont want to come off as self-serving to anyone regarding this letter. However, on the other hand, I feel the necessity to stand up for the United Hockey League (UHL) and, most importantly, the owners and the fans of Rockford IceHogs. Over the past five days, I have been put into a situation where I have had to go on the offensive regarding the issues surrounding the Rockford IceHogs and what is potentially going to be their fate.
Over the past 10-plus years, I have represented the United Hockey League (UHL) as its President/CEO & Commissioner. During this time, I have probably been to over 50 council meetings along with countless meeting with authorities, mayors, city managers and numerous other people who have had to deal with making very hard decisions regarding hockey in their respective cities.
In every instance, there have been pros and cons regarding why or why not a city should enter into any type of partnership with a hockey team. Such was the case over nine years ago when I made multiple trips to Rockford on behalf of the UHL and its ownership group who desired to place a professional hockey team at the MetroCentre in Rockford. During these trips, it was very evident in all of our meetings with the MetroCentre Authority and the City of Rockford that the downtown area needed revitalization. However, the most important issue surrounding bringing a hockey team and putting ice into the MetroCentre was that it could not cost the authority or the city any money, thus not putting the burden on the taxpayers of Rockford.
From the time that we entered into an agreement with the MetroCentre Authority, the UHL and the teams ownership group has taken the financial responsibility in keeping hockey alive and well in Rockford. The ownership has spent millions of dollars over the past seven-plus years in building the brand and the goodwill that accompanies the Rockford IceHogs. Further, they have helped to put the City of Rockford on the map in the hockey industry.
As with any business, it takes very hard work and a tremendous amount of money to sustain that business. The branding of the Rockford IceHogs has been tremendous, to say the least. In seven short years, they have developed a very loyal following, not only in Rockford, but all over the world. The ownership group has always paid their bills, along with being an exceptional tenant in the MetroCentre.
Dr. Kris Tumilowicz, along with Craig Drektrah, have spent the proper amount of money to secure one of the best coaches in all of professional hockey, along with a front office staff that has done a remarkable job on and off the ice every year. The team and its mascot, Hammy, are probably better known than anyone else in Rockford. Over the past two years, the ownership group has been asking for renovations and an extension to their lease. They have been negotiating in good faith during this time to accomplish just that.
One item that should not be lost in this equation is that of Ryan Washatka, who is employed by the Rockford IceHogs and is paid by them and only them. While the ownership group is allowing Ryan to be a part of the negotiations, Corey Pearson, arena director, is also discussing with the mayor the possibility of bringing an American Hockey League (AHL) team to Rockford. Where I come from, that is playing both sides against the middle.
Now we have come to the part of Dr. T & Craig finding out that their lease will not be renewed after the 2006-2007 hockey season. Isnt it more than a coincidence that the team has been utilizing the automatic one-year extension for this season after their option had already been used last year? I dont believe this to be an innocent measure as the fact remains that during this portion of the extension, the Rockford IceHogs have the first right of refusal should the MetroCentre negotiate with anyone else during this time frame. As we have all come to know, the MetroCentre, along with the mayor, have been negotiating for a long period of time with the Chicago Blackhawks along with the AHL and, supposedly, the current owners with the hopes of displacing the UHL team and replacing them with an AHL team affiliated with the Blackhawks.
Whats even more disturbing is the fact that instead of doing the renovations that have been discussed over the past four-plus years for the current owners, it is now contingent on an AHL team being in the building. As I stated before, this just doesnt pass the smell test. Since last Friday, the city, along with the MetroCentre, has led everyone to believe that the current owners are behind this issue and do not want to stand in the way of progress for the city of Rockford. Further, the MetroCentre and the authority have utilized the trademark and name of the IceHogs without the written permission of the current owners and the UHL. These are legal issues pertaining to trademark law.
The mayor, along with Corey Pearson, has presented only one-half of the real story to everyone in the community. By bypassing the proper chain of command, they portrayed a very rosy picture regarding what they want to take place without answering numerous questions surrounding this entire issue. It appeared that the only people who really wanted this to happen were the people who knew about it in the first place. By not giving the citizens, business leaders, and council people from both the city and county the whole picture is negligent, at best.
No one has asked the right questions up to this point. I, along with loyal Rockford fans, have spent the past three days on the news and radio stations asking some of these questions of the mayor and Corey Pearson. First and foremost, how do you send out a press release, along with leaking the story to media, without having your ducks in a row? They may have met with the Blackhawks, yet they do not have a signed affiliation agreement. They talk about purchasing an AHL franchise, but they have yet to do so. In fact, by telling everyone that they will probably have to spend around $3,000,000.00 for the AHL team to replace the UHL tame is absurd. By letting the cat out of the bag the way they have, if I am one of the owners in the AHL who is considering selling my team, the asking price just went up to $6,000,000.00. Lets face it, without having the team secured but announcing that the MetroCentre is working on an affiliation and wants to be in the AHL has given the AHL the upper hand now.
However, the most disturbing part of the press conference yesterday was when the mayor said that the city and the MetroCentre have an agreement with the current UHL owners. This was an outright lie!!!!! The MetroCentre, along with the mayor, is basically trying to steal the name and trademarks of the Rockford IceHogs. Their offer is offensive considering that they want to come in and reap the benefits from all of the branding, money and, most of all, the heavy lifting that has been done by the current owners.
Dont get me wrong, this is not about the mayor and Corey Pearson trying to benefit from this change alone. There are other people who are responsible for what is trying to take place. The fact of the matter is the way that this has been handled is wrong. Both sides of the equation need to be presented before anything happens. Lets look at the real hard facts surrounding this very issue. I will be listing, for your review, facts that the mayor and Corey Pearson have not presented to the public. Further, I will ask the questions that I feel should be asked of both counci
ls before there is an official vote on this issue.
Local ownership/private ownership is responsible for all expenditures of running the hockey team. They have continually shown how much they love their team and have backed it with their own money. Dr. T even leveraged his house and business as collateral to ensure that the IceHogs would remain in Rockford.
The fans of the Rockford IceHogs have become the best fans in all of hockey. They are so loyal to the IceHogs that the team has led the league in merchandise sales three years in a row. The team has been voted by the partners in the UHL as the Member Club of the Year two seasons in a row. The front office staff is one of the best staffs in all of hockey, and continues to give back to the community. The team is paid for in-full, has no debt, and is no burden to the city, the MetroCentre and, most importantly, the taxpayers.
Steve Martinson has taken a subpar team on the ice and made them contenders in his first two seasons as head coach of the IceHogs. He has brought an AHL and NHL affiliation to the city of Rockford. His passion for what he does, his overall knowledge of the game, and what his team brings to a community is second to none. The ticket prices have remained very consistent the entire time the IceHogs have been in Rockford. Their sponsorship and advertising sales have reached an all-time high with little to no inventory left to sell.
Why is all of the above important? Well, it is because of many reasons, but the most important reason is that the privately owned team leaves no potential or real burden on the MetroCentre, the authority, and the taxpayers of your community. Further, let me also point out that if the renovations that have been talked about for many years is good enough for the AHL, why is it not good enough for the current UHL team, which has brought the city and its fans the best thing that has happened to the downtown area in a very long time.
In addition, the rivalries that the IceHogs have made with Quad City, Bloomington, Chicago and Fort Wayne is real and not just something that the fans take for granted.
It is important to point out that everything that I have listed so far is factual, not fiction. All of this information is real and can be backed up. I am not so certain that what you have been told about the renovations and the AHL team is factual. I will now pose the following questions, plus make a few comments about the real answers to the questions that need to be asked regarding the very issue at hand.
The $23,000,000.00 bonds that will be sold to cover the expenses associated with this renovation and other expenses. What is it for and, ultimately, who is responsible for these?
The purchase of an AHL franchise? It has not been done, but a good bet it will be well north of the $3,000,000.00 cost that has been discussed.
The cost of the affiliation? If, in fact, there is a signed affiliation, it is estimated between $800,000.00 to $1,000,000.00.
The so-called agreement to buy the Rockford IceHogs name, trademark, front office staff, etc.? It has not been completed yet and probably wont be.
The MetroCentres business plan to increase revenues for the AHL team without increasing ticket prices? The AHL operating budget is at a minimum of $1,000,000.00 more than that of the UHL operating budget. Increasing the sponsorship dollars in a slow economy and with the current inventory of the IceHogs being sold out, who will be responsible for any shortfall when the team loses money? Right now, if there is a shortfall, it is the responsibility of the private ownership group.
What is the cost in retrofitting the ice surface, along with the locker rooms, to accommodate an AHL franchise? Answer: between $1 and $2 million.
What happens to the existing players and head coach? The answer is simple, they lose their jobs.
Why was there no referendum put forth to the taxpayers regarding these bonds to fund this issue?
Why did the MetroCentre negotiate in good faith with the current owners while they had the AHL in their sight the whole time?
Why would the mayor go public with this issue when the pieces of the puzzle had not been put in place?
Why would the mayor stand up at a press conference and say that he had a deal done with Dr. T and Craig, the current UHL owners?
Why was this kept secret for the period of time that it was? In addition, why was it made public one week after the national elections that took place on Nov. 7?
I could go on, but probably the most important question is, Why was there no feasibility study done regarding this entire issue?
The easy answer to this one is because it would come back saying that the city of Rockford cannot afford an AHL hockey team along with all of the other costs associated with what Corey Pearson and the mayor wanted done. The fact of the matter is that you dont have to look far down the road to see what happens when a city like Peoria, Ill., and Norfolk, Va., cant support an AHL team that once had a AA league like the UHL or the ECHL in their city. These two are just a sample of cities that thought the higher level league would bring more dollars along with more fans to their arenas. The only problem is they didnt accomplish either. You dont have to believe me regarding this issue. Simply look at the figures from those two teams and you will see that I am giving facts, not fictional statements that both Corey and the mayor have made public.
I do believe that the citizens of Rockford, along with all of you, are smart enough to see that not everything that has been and will continue to be presented is as rosy as it is made out to be. In closing, I want to sincerely thank each of you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to read this letter. I only hope that you realize that I have not tried to hide the fact that I have self-serving reasons for wanting the team to remain in the UHL. However, I also believe in doing what is right and fighting for what you believe in. I just ask that each one of you look into this entire issue and decide for yourself as to whether or not Dr. T., Craig and the UHL Rockford fans have been treated fairly. It is our hope that we will continue to see UHL hockey and the IceHogs for many years to come in your great city.
United Hockey League
From the Nov. 15-21, 2006, issue