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American Hockey League to Austin, TX?


Brian in Boston

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Hicks Sports Group - owner of the NHL's Dallas Stars - has announced plans to co-develop a 6,800-seat multi-purpose arena in Cedar Park, Texas, a suburb of Austin. The facility would become home to a new American Hockey League franchise - the Texas Stars - in time for the 2010 season.

As a result, it would appear that Iowa Stars owners Robert Schlegel and Howard Baldwin will be looking for a new parent-club. Further, ownership of the Central Hockey League's Austin Ice Bats contend that they will not vacate the market, raising the prospect of two minor-league ice hockey teams battling for fans in Austin.

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Hicks Sports Group - owner of the NHL's Dallas Stars - has announced plans to co-develop a 6,800-seat multi-purpose arena in Cedar Park, Texas, a suburb of Austin. The facility would become home to a new American Hockey League franchise - the Texas Stars - in time for the 2010 season.

As a result, it would appear that Iowa Stars owners Robert Schlegel and Howard Baldwin will be looking for a new parent-club. Further, ownership of the Central Hockey League's Austin Ice Bats contend that they will not vacate the market, raising the prospect of two minor-league ice hockey teams battling for fans in Austin.

The Iowa Stars never made sense as a Dallas-affiliated club, so maybe this will open up an opportunity for the Wild to shift their affiliation to Iowa (where it makes more geographic sense). I guess the questions raised in Texas are: Can Austin support two minor league franchises and can the state of Texas support three AHL franchises?

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The Iowa Stars never made sense as a Dallas-affiliated club...

Except for the fact that team owner Robert Schlegel has made his home and headquartered his business interests in Dallas since 1979. In the 26 years since, he's established himself as a major player in the Dallas business and philanthropic communities. So, while there's no obvious geographic or historic tie between Dallas and Des Moines, it's safe to say that given a choice of NHL parent-clubs, Schlegel would choose to establish a relationship with the Dallas Stars. It just so happened that when he joined Howard Baldwin's bid to purchase and establish a new AHL franchise, Baldwin had already targeted the soon-to-be-completed Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines as a suitable facility to play host to a team.

I guess the questions raised in Texas are: Can Austin support two minor league franchises...

I'd say that's highly unlikely. One of the two teams isn't going to survive the showdown. While Ice Bats' ownership is putting on a brave face, I wouldn't bet against the deep-pockets of Stars' owner Tom Hicks in this battle. Then again, other issues could certainly come in to play. My understanding is that Cedar Park is a suburb north of Austin, while the largest percentage of season ticket holders for the existing Ice Bats hail from communities on Austin's south side. My friends who live in Austin are constantly compalining about how traffic problems have escalated in the Austin Metro Area, so maybe that would impact the ability of a hockey team to catch-on in a northern suburb if fans in the southern suburbs weren't willing to fight traffic. Additionally, fans in the market may decide that they like what will undoubtedly be the cheaper ticket prices being charged by a CHL franchise. Only time will tell.

... and can the state of Texas support three AHL franchises?

I don't think that the presence of an AHL expansion franchise in Austin will impact the viability of the league's teams in Houston and San Antonio much at all. If anything, the presence of a team in Austin would give each of the existing franchises a rival located a little bit closer to home... a welcome budgetary consideration in the far-flung AHL. Further, management of the teams could try to play-up the in-state, "Texas bragging rights" rivalries as a means of increasing attendance for games between the clubs.

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I think another team in Texas would be beneficial to the stranded Houston and San Antonio franchises, and at least that atrocious Ice Bats identity won't be creeping into the AHL. And there could be AHL-level support in Austin, as the Bats have sold out every home game this season and last (granted, their arena's capacity is a rec-league level 1,900, but they appear to have drawn in the mid-3k range before that, and that's been enough to keep the Rampage afloat longer than anyone thought they would.)

And if the Texas Stars are smart, they'll bring Iowa's unis down to the new franchise. Oh, and on a related note, anyone have any insight as to why the I-Stars' attendance has gone in the tank this year?

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There have been many rumors throughout the league of San Antonio leaving the AHL. The reason is primarily the attendance, but it seems like there are other factors I haven't read. Right now, I think only one team shared a dual affiliation, so if Austin entered the league next season, the AHL and NHL would number the same.

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hmmmm, I've been reading about this rumor for a while. I mean if everybody wants to win, it seems that San Antonio may work as a CHL organization, the boards I have read have been begging for the Iguanas to come back. I think Austin in the A would work honestly, Iowa could always find another affiliate.

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