Whalers on the move? Not so fast…

Posted: March 25, 2014 in 2013-14, Editorial, Whalers
Tags: , , ,

This past Sunday a report came out from Randy Russon on his website HockeyNewsNorth.com titles “OHL Whalers leaving Plymouth?” starting the speculations that our Plymouth Whalers were looking to move out of the Plymouth area. These rumors come up from time to time, so let’s see what Randy has for us.

Multiple sources, including one close to the team, have indicated that Plymouth Whalers are looking to relocate their money-losing, Ontario Hockey League franchise.

The Michigan-based Whalers have been playing out of Compuware Arena in Plymouth since 1997.

Founded by Peter Karmanos — who also owns the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League — the Plymouth franchise has been a part of the OHL since 1990 under other names, specifically Detroit Compuware Ambassadors, Detroit Jr. Red Wings and Detroit Whalers.

According to one source, the Whalers explored the possibility of moving from Plymouth to Perani Arena and Event Centre in Flint for the 2014-2015 season.

However, the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League recently signed a one-year extension of their current lease to continue to play out of the Flint arena for the 2014-2015 campaign.

Undaunted, the Plymouth organization is now said to be looking at the Southern Ontario area of Hamilton to move the Whalers.

Despite considerable success in Plymouth under coach-general manager Mike Vellucci — the team has won nine West Division titles and one OHL championship — the Whalers have routinely averaged crowds of less than 2,000 over the years.

A number of OHL fans coming to me asking if this is true. Time to fact check this article, let’s start at the beginning.

Multiple sources, including one close to the team, have indicated that Plymouth Whalers are looking to relocate their money-losing, Ontario Hockey League franchise.

I’d be interested in who these “multiple sources” are. A number of times these rumors are started and spread by the fans because they hear something out of context. Who is this person close to the team? Is it an intern? They would be close to the team, but not accurate with news concerning the team. Note I am not trying to throw the interns under the bus here, but it seems the most likely that an intern would be his source, unless he was making it up.

The Michigan-based Whalers have been playing out of Compuware Arena in Plymouth since 1997.

Actually the Whalers moved into Compuware Arena in 1996. 1997 is when they changed from the Detroit Whalers to the Plymouth Whalers, but who’s counting?

Founded by Peter Karmanos — who also owns the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League — the Plymouth franchise has been a part of the OHL since 1990 under other names, specifically Detroit Compuware Ambassadors, Detroit Jr. Red Wings and Detroit Whalers.

This part is true. Let’s also add in the fact that Karmanos is also involved with the Detroit Compuware Hockey organization which plays at Compuware Arena as well.

According to one source, the Whalers explored the possibility of moving from Plymouth to Perani Arena and Event Centre in Flint for the 2014-2015 season.

However, the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League recently signed a one-year extension of their current lease to continue to play out of the Flint arena for the 2014-2015 campaign.

Here’s where it start not to make any sense. Let’s just assume that the Whalers were looking into moving and they were looking to move to Flint. The Perani Arena and Event Center holds 4,021 for hockey games, just 517 more seats than Compuware. While there would be an opportunity to sell more tickets, the venue is not that much bigger than the venue that the Whalers are currently in.

Secondly, if this was a serious inquiry, wouldn’t you think that the people in charge of The Perani Arena and Event Center would want a team that would be a better draw than the Michigan Warriors? Currently this season the Warriors are averaging 920 spectators per game. That’s down from last season’s average of 1,014. The season before that? An average of 669.

That is also not including the fact that the Saginaw Spirit might have something to say about another OHL team moving closer to them. The Spirit have advertising and season ticket holders in the mid-Michigan area. With the team averaging just under 3,700 in attendance the past two seasons, do you honestly think that they would be ok with a team moving into their territory?

If you look at it, Flint does not make sense as a “profitable” move for the Whalers franchise. Moving on…

Undaunted, the Plymouth organization is now said to be looking at the Southern Ontario area of Hamilton to move the Whalers.

Oh look, it’s the [Insert OHL franchise] to Hamilton rumor that has popped up every other year. The last team to be associated with this rumor was Erie. Seeing as they just renovated their arena and a better team, it looks like that time to start up these rumors with another team. Looks like this time it’s Plymouth’s turn.

This is where this article saw any sense of credibility lost. Peter Karmanos Jr. fought hard to get the OHL to expand in the United States, eventually leading to being granted a franchise in 1989. This is just in addition to the Detroit Compuware hockey organization that he helped co-found in the 1970’s. Karmanos, a 2013 US Hockey Hall of Fame inductee also received USA Hockey’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 2012, and in 1998 the NHL honored him with the Lester Patrick Award for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

Moving the team to a Canadian market does not sound like a move Karmanos would make.

Despite considerable success in Plymouth under coach-general manager Mike Vellucci — the team has won nine West Division titles and one OHL championship — the Whalers have routinely averaged crowds of less than 2,000 over the years.

If Mr. Russon did his research, he would have found that his statement about attendance is false.

  • 2013/14 – 2,478
  • 2012/13 – 2,850
  • 2011/12 – 2,657
  • 2010/11 – 2,730
  • 2009/10 – 2,685

Compuware Arena has 3,504 seats for hockey games. Using this number and comparing it to the average attendance, it means that the Whalers just topped 70% occupancy in the arena. If you use the number for seated and standing room (4,500), that percentage drops to 55%. Still no where close to the “less than 2,000 over the years”. In fact, only 8 home games this season were under 2,000.  There were 2 in the 2012-13 season and 6 in the 2011-12 season.

Yes, this season the attendance average dropped by 372 per game. However, I can honestly attribute that to mix of a very bad winter that lead to bad roads, and an underperforming team this year. It did not drop enough to spark a “We need to make a big change” moment.

After reading this article I contacted a few of my sources within the Whalers organization. I was met with the same response… Laughter. If there is any truth to these rumors, the people I talked to have not heard anything to move this from the crazy rumor bin.

Call this idea crazy, but Randy Russon is a person running a website. A website that publishes news and opinion articles that he writes.  What drives websites? Traffic. That is what advertisers pay for. What gets you traffic to your website? What better than an exclusive scoop on an OHL team moving?  I’m sure that his article has had a lot of views for his site in the past few days.

In an article also posted this past Sunday he posted an article in which he posted some opinions that he had. It’s his comment that he is “thankful and humbled with the advertising support that I have received to date.” For a site created this past December, I am glad he is doing well with his site.

In saying that, Mr. Russon, like any responsible person in the media, should check all of the facts of the story before they publish it. Clearly, research was not done in this case.

Currently all signs point to this being nothing more than a rumor. We have seen these rumors come and go in the past. Please remember, just because one part of the story is true, it does not mean that the entire story is true. A lot of the relocation stories that we see come out on the internet have to be taken with a grain of salt.

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Comments
  1. Donna says:

    You are looking at this logically, but when dealing with butt hurt billionaires, all common sense goes out the window. On the other hand, I’ve been hearing these types of rumors for 15+ years. And Randy Russon wasn’t the first place I’ve heard these rumors this time. Who owns the Compuware Arena? Is it Pete Karmanos or the Compuware Corporation?

    • Keith Dotson says:

      From Crain’s Detroit:

      Also part of Vellucci’s job as general manager is oversight of the Whalers’ 3,807-seat Plymouth Township home, Compuware Arena, built by Karmanos in 1996.

      Also according to Wikipedia and Plymouth Township tax records, it is owned by Compuware Sports Corporation. It has Mike Vellucci listed as president.

      So it is my belief that Karmanos holds the key to the whole operation.

  2. Chad says:

    I don’t think the Whalers are going anywhere…….This year. As far as Perani Arena, that venue would need a ton of work and money to bring it up to OHL standards. While I don’t believe the city has money to do this, if you see a “major renovation announcement” coming out of Flint, that is when I would raise an eyebrow. This may be why the Warriors and the arena came to a one year agreement.

  3. […] something has been made official. As you remember Flint has been talked about as a new location even as early as last year. Well since then, some things have changed. A new ownership group has come in to take over the […]

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