Financial Help Not Available
Dave Ellett could scarcely get the words out of his mouth.
“The team will be dormant this upcoming season,” the co-owner of the New Mexico Scorpions said.
After six months, Ellett’s efforts to sell the cash-strapped Scorpions have reached a dead end, and on Thursday the boom most everyone expected was finally lowered.
There will be no professional hockey in New Mexico — at least for the 2009-10 season.
“We just couldn’t find anyone to step in and help us financially,” a somber Ellett said Thursday afternoon in a phone interview with the Journal from his Arizona home. “Not one of the better days I’ve had.”
This is the second time in four years that New Mexico has gone dark. There was also no hockey in 2005-06, as the team prepared for a move out of dilapidated Tingley Coliseum.
About 30 minutes after Ellett spoke with the Journal, the Central Hockey League issued this statement Thursday:
“We, along with the Scorpions ownership group, have been working diligently for months trying to make it possible to play in Rio Rancho (New Mexico) this season but our efforts fell short,” said CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis in a statement. Lewis is a former player with the Scorpions, when they were in the Western Professional Hockey League.
As has been well documented, the Scorpions have been hemorrhaging money. Ellett announced in January that the team had lost about $1 million since relocating to the Santa Ana Star Center.
While it was believed a new arena would be a marriage made in hockey heaven, the relationship never flourished. The team struggled to pay bills, lost its radio deal with Citadel Communications and reduced or reorganized staff in an attempt to stay solvent.
And in the current economic climate, finding a buyer has been exceedingly tough.
“I would say that’s an understatement,” Ellett said. “It was extremely difficult. It certainly was not what I thought it would be.”
New Mexico was not the only franchise to vacate the CHL on Thursday. The CHL is not only losing the sizable Albuquerque/Rio Rancho market, but also — surprisingly — the even larger market of Oklahoma City. The Blazers had been one of the league’s most reliable tenants but rumors have swirled about a move to the more stable American Hockey League.
Oklahoma City led the CHL in attendance last season with 6,508 fans per home game.
New Mexico averaged a dismal 2,791 fans, which was down about 200 fans from 2007-08 and down about 500 fans from the Scorps’ first season in Rio Rancho, which was 2006-07.
The Scorpions ranked 12th in the 16-team CHL in attendance last season.
Asked if any one factor played more heavily into the decision than any other, Ellett said:
“I would say a continuing drop in revenue (related to attendance). It’s hard to pinpoint, because the number of people that come through the doors affect what happens revenue-wise.”
The on-ice product was certainly not the issue. The Scorpions qualified for the playoffs in two of their three seasons in Rio Rancho, and in 2006-07 won the Southwest Division title and reached the Southern Conference finals.
All Scorpions players become free agents immediately. Their most recent coach already left.
Randy Murphy on Monday bolted to become the head coach of the Huntsville (Ala.) Havoc of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
The CHL will have 15 teams next season.
Ellett was asked if hockey might return to the area.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I won’t stop working on it.”
Lewis was driving with his family to San Diego on Thursday and was unavailable for further comment, said CHL communications director Bob Hoffman.
“I would love to have the Scorpions back someday,” Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack said.