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Flames have another upcoming free agent to sign: the Stockton Arena & City of Stockton

This offseason, the Calgary Flames have been busy signing a number of free agents and extending the contracts of current players. But there is one major extension that still needs to be addressed: a long-term deal with the Stockton Arena and City of Stockton. This is the fourth year of a five-year deal. It would be nice to extend that for another five years, and beyond.

In my last post I mentioned some of the more successful NHL/AHL franchises throughout the league. The most common thread to these was tenure. Nashville has had only one affiliate in its history: Milwaukee. Teams like the Penguins, Capitals, and Bruins have double-digit years with their AHL city. To make my point, the Hersey Bears have played in the AHL dating back to 1938-39 season, making it the longest continuously operating member of the AHL still playing in its original city (thanks Wikipedia!). Washington has been its affiliate since the 2006 season. San Diego has had a hockey team dating back to 1966.

Ryan Pike wrote an article back in 2014 about the many places that Calgary has used for their AHL clubs. You can add Adirondack to that list for a year before moving to Stockton. That now totals 12 cities that have been associated with Flames hockey since their move from Atlanta in 1980. The longest tenure has been nine years.

Let’s hope there is not a 13th city added to this list anytime soon.

The City of Stockton heads into its 14th year of hockey. The first 10 were dedicated to the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, with affiliations with the Oilers, Sharks, and Islanders. When the AHL expanded to the West, the four west coast teams all jumped up a league. Only Stockton changed its name: Ontario, Bakersfield, and San Diego all kept their original team names.

Side note: You still see a good number of Thunder jerseys in Stockton. I still do not know to this day why they had to change the name from the Thunder to the Heat. This hurt attendance and loyalty.

Stocktonians have supported their hockey teams in the past. They led the ECHL in attendance the first four years in the league. They were consistently in the top five until the 2013-14 season, when the team signed a deal with the New York Islanders.

Via HockeyDB, here are the attendance records for the Stockton Thunder from 2005-2015:

Year Average
2005-06 6,343
2006-07 6,780
2007-08 6,648
2008-09 6,218
2009-10 6,031
2010-11 6,382
2011-12 5,916
2012-13 5,485
2013-14 4,786
2014-15 4,621

Since the 2013-14 season, attendance has steadily declined, including last year when Stockton finished dead last in actual attendance and second to last in average attendance. Mind you that they did have four fewer games than the other three divisions, but the other west coast teams all cleared the 4,000 average.

Via HockeyDB, here’s the attendance throughout the AHL for the 2017-18 season:

Team Total attendance Total games Average
San Diego 316,368 34 9,305
Cleveland 349,503 38 9,197
Hershey 345,748 38 9,099
Providence 317,563 38 8,357
Chicago 302,742 38 7,967
Grand Rapids 302,471 38 7,960
Lehigh Valley 299,250 38 7,875
Ontario 259,956 34 7,646
Laval 254,251 38 6,691
Toronto 254,022 38 6,685
Charlotte 238,266 37 6,440
Iowa 233,803 38 6,153
San Antonio 231,563 38 6,094
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 211,166 38 5,557
Milwaukee 210,735 38 5,546
Syracuse 207,717 38 5,466
Texas 201,006 38 5,290
Manitoba 200,530 38 5,277
Rochester 197,394 38 5,195
Springfield 189,435 38 4,985
Bakersfield 164,153 34 4,828
Tucson 143,370 34 4,217
Hartford 157,243 38 4,138
San Jose 138,387 34 4,070
Bridgeport 148,868 38 3,918
Utica 148,846 38 3,917
Rockford 148,758 38 3,915
Binghamton 148,031 38 3,896
Stockton 125,094 34 3,679
Belleville 137,102 38 3,608
League 6,583,341 1,115 5,904

The point I am trying to make is that a long lasting relationship between a city and a team will help increase attendance, loyalty, and fan experience. Marketing the team and its parent club will help this, especially in the backyard of the San Jose Sharks.

You have to get people in the building and make them want to come back. You want the fanbase to associate with the Flames, not with another teams that might swoop in like Vegas, San Jose, or Seattle. Their new promotional schedule is a good start.

Having a history and knowing the team will be in Stockton for some time helps in that pursuit of a bigger fanbase, profit, and brand awareness. Now is the time for the Flames, Stockton Arena, and City of Stockton officials to ink this new deal and move all attention to the play on the ice.

Go Heat Go!

  • HAL MacInnis

    I remember you mentioning attendance last year. If I ran the zoo, I’d give the city back it’s old team name. It would generate buzz in the city and it’s hockey community, and many old fans would come out with their original jerseys guaranteed.

    I can only imagine the local paper (do we still have those nowadays?) running a front page of “Sorry for Stealing your Thunder” a few weeks before the start of the season. 😉 It would be a humble thing for the Heat to do and acts like that resonate much longer than flashy ads and loud music.

    • FuNky ANGER

      I personally like when team names have a naming affiliation to their NHL club or to the local culture or geography. I feel the name Heat fits both perfectly for the Flames as there is a relationship between Heat and Flames and with the team being in California where I believe its consistantly hot, the name Heat applies really well also. Kinda win win if you ask me. All you really need now is a winning team for the City to get behind. Winning tends to solve alot of issues.

      • HAL MacInnis

        I’m not complaining about Heat as a name. I think it’s a great name; I’m not arguing that. But let me ask you a simple question… how about we change the name of the Flames? Would we all be okay with that? I’d be pretty bummed. The name carries a lot of history. You might not appreciate what the name Thunder carries with fans in Stockton, but I think it holds a lot more weight with the community than you realize.

        I’ve seen, first hand, how changing the name of a minor league team can frustrate new players, ex-players, coaches and fans. The only people who like name changes are the new owners and management, to be honest.

        And yes, winning matters. I really hope the season starts with a bang for the Heat.

        • FuNky ANGER

          If the Flames were changing leagues then I wouldn’t really have any issue honestly. But since they play in the NHL where teams are more stable its not as often as an occurence. Where if you support a minor league team you have to know or kinda expect change as they aren’t as stable.

          • HAL MacInnis

            If the Flames were changing leagues then I wouldn’t really have any issue honestly.

            And neither would anyone else, myself included. But the Heat didn’t change leagues. In fact, the Thunder were a farm team for 3 other NHL teams spanning 10 years, before Calgary took over.

            Now it’s possible, as Bionicle77 pointed out, that the name change might not have been a choice. But I hope you at least understand my sentiment.

          • FuNky ANGER

            HAL I can’t reply to your comment for some reason. But the Stockton team did change leagues. They went from the ECHL Thunder to the AHL Heat. Yes the Heat didn’t change leagues but SF was wondering why they couldn’t keep the Thunder name. Perhaps the Flames felt it was more important to keep and build the Heat name which they first had when the team was in Abbotsford.

          • HAL MacInnis

            Yeah, the replies stop after 4 levels. Don’t know why.

            You’re right, FuNky. I was confused. I thought the Thunder was an AHL team. They did feed NHL teams as a secondary source from the ECHL, it seems. I thought AHL teams were the only ones affiliated with NHL teams (which is partially true), but it looks like ECHL teams are affiliated with AHL teams… and so indirectly linked to NHL teams. The Abbotsford Heat moved to become the Adirondack Flames (and had the cool Atlanta Flames logo) and then they moved to Stockton and reclaimed the Heat name again (since the “A” on the logo made no sense in the new city).

            Thanks for setting me straight on this one.

  • Stu Gotz

    From a business perspective the numbers alone do not justify an extension. I do acknowledge the need for a long term relationship & loyalty factors to evolve but at the end of the day it equates to profit vs loss for investors. An American city with a Canadian affiliation does not help…..

  • Off the wall

    Thanks SF.
    As much as we enjoy watching our Flames, our affiliate team should look much different this upcoming season.
    I’m excited for Stockton!

    Winning breeds excitement. It also sells jerseys, increases attendance and makes the city proud. City of “champions” has a nice ring to it..

    I would love for Stockton to remain our Affiliate.

    Then we can “ink” you in doing what you do best.

    Keeping us ALL informed about our prospects, coaching and changes. I can’t express this enough, but having you and Mrs Finest watching and supporting the Heat has made me feel like part of the team. Every thing you share with us each season, just makes me appreciate all your hard work and dedication!

    Thank you for being our eyes and ears!!

  • Redleader

    Yikes !!! Wow look at that low attendance!! Nothing like our prospects playing in front of the smallest fan base in the league! 5 more years why ? They might as well play for a hamlet sized population the farmers would bring in more tickets and cash . If there’s no significant jump in attendance then move on ,although some playoff success would likely help lol .

  • Jobu

    It’s taken a long time for the Flames to put money and effort in anything outside of the big club. Our drafting has been historically one of the worst and our AHL clubs have suffered as a result. Winning breeds attendance.

  • Snitch

    It would be a shame if the Flames didn’t stay in Stockton for two reasons. First, it’s obvious the fans there have supported hockey in the past and just need to be treated to some winning hockey to get bums in the seats.

    Second, and more importantly for me, we are very fortunate to have Stockton’s Finest there giving us excellent reporting the ground. He is very knowledgeable about all things hockey. This includes assessing the players, the coaching and the business of the game. Outstanding work sir! I look forward to your reporting this coming season and hope the Heat really bring something special for the fans in Stockton.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    It has to be tough being the city of a pro team feeder system. On the one hand seeing players hone their craft in the minor league would be very fulfilling. But on the other hand, when the players graduate to the NHL it would be like parents saying good bye to one of their kids that are going off to college. Stockton can feel proud knowing these players have out grown the minor league but sad to see them go.

    The problem that I see with this relationship is that it is not a mutually beneficial relationship. Despite players appreciating the development they receive in these leagues, most high level prospects want to get out of the league as soon as possible and live their dream in the NHL. For these players being sent back to the minors can be perceived as failure to reach the next level.

    It is up to the organization to reward the fans and the city by giving back. This can be done by having high profile players that have made the leap to come back and give back to the program and city through coaching clinics and autograph sessions. Of equal importance, the parent team can do a better job of keeping the farm team competitive. For instance, calling up one of the best minor team players so they can sit for 10 games is rediculous and a slap in the face to the player and the farm team fan base.
    Call ups need to be measured and calculated depending on the level of competitiveness of the teams in the respective leagues.

  • DoooieStevens

    Sounds like the Flames should find a new city for their AHL team. I’ve always wanted to see them put their AHL team in a place like Saskatoon, or Regina. Get them some pro hockey where they will fill the stadium, easier logistically for call ups and did I say attendance?

    • Stockton's Finest

      If you research AHL attendance histories, you will see that the Flames’ AHL team in general do not draw well.
      11-12: Abbotsford – 3545 average
      12-13: Abbotsford – 3778
      13-14: Abbostford – 3007
      14-15: Adirondack – 3642
      15-16: Stockton – 4647
      16-17: Stockton – 4531

      Winning hockey increases attendance.

      • DoooieStevens

        That’s true, and me saying I think they should move is not a personal attack on you Finest. I enjoy your write ups and posts. Just would rather see a team of AHL cali er in a hockey market. Like I posted earlier would help with logistics for call ups and also create more of a culture.

        • Stockton's Finest

          No worries. I get it. I understand the “closeness” aspect. But look at Belleville. Close to Ottawa and still no attendance. San Jose shares the SAP Center and does not draw.

          My point was it is hard to build a relationship with a city and fan base when you are constantly moving your team. Stockton has shown in the past that they can support hockey. But missing the playoffs 2 out of 3 years does not help build that base.

          I expect this year will be better with the expected team and the changes the Heat Management are putting in place to help the overall fan experience.

  • thymebalm

    Culture is a big part of hockey that doesn’t often fit its way into the spreadsheet. I think creating a culture is a big part of creating success in professional sports.

    It appears that the Flames shuffling their affiliates to almost every corner of the continent over the last decade and more hasn’t done the team any favours. All of these teams have had bad attendance records, so it would be a mistake to think moving the team would solve the attendance issue.

    Since leaving St John after 10 years and one Calder Cup championship:
    Omaha Ak Sar Ban Knights – 2 seasons – 6 playoff games.
    ……………Quad-City Flames – 2 seasons – missed playoffs
    ……………..Abbotsford Heat – 5 seasons – 25 playoff games
    ………….Adriondack Flames – 1 season – No playoff games
    …………………Stockton Heat – 3 seasons – 5 playoff games.
    …………………………….Totals – 13 seasons – 36 playoff games.

    After Jay Feaster took over as GM the drafting strategy change meant Abbotsford Heat were actually a fun team to watch in the minors. They had miserable attendance being in the Canucks backyard, but they also had a great on ice product. The team was close to Calgary for call-ups, injury management, and scouting purposes, and the stability in the organization allowed for some form of culture to develop there, with steady leadership from AHL sandpaper Carter Bancks, and coaching stability from Troy Ward. The Flames were playing a veteran lineup, and graduations from the Heat were slow. This benefited the Flames and Heat at the same time, as prospects coming through were really ready for the NHL when they arrived. Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Marcus Granlund, Sven Baertschi, Josh Jooris, Mikael Ferland, Tyler Wotherspoon, Brett Kulak… It must have felt like you could make the NHL from that club.

    Stockton is going to stick around because of the money it saves the Flames in travel. I just hope that some stability can breed some culture, and then some winning and attendance can come from that. The Flames ownership has just bandied about taking sweetheart dealing from desperate landlords and then leaving town monorail style for 15 years. It’s time to settle down and play the long game. Sometimes I feel like since Hotchkiss died we’ve lost some anchoring back where the money flows from.

    • mrroonie

      Feaster is given way too much credit for his time as Flames GM. The change in draft system was after Treliving’s first draft in 2014 which appears to have been more Burke than Tre. In the 4 years since, Tre has totally changed the makeup and direction of the team.

      Of the 44 players shown in the Flames system on CapFriendly, only 6 were acquired by Feaster, all by draft. Three players (Backlund, Brodie, and Gio) remain from Sutter’s time, and the other 35 are all Treliving acquisitions.

      Here’s a look at the six Feaster picks still in the Flames system:

      Monahan: A total no brainer pick. How he was still available at #6 is baffling.

      Gaudreau: Tod Button had to almost break Feaster’s arm to make that pick.

      Jankowski: He’ll be a good player but there were others available with the 14th pick Feaster traded away who are arguably much better.

      Gillies: Still trying to make it to the NHL but is behind Rittich in development and has Parsons looming in his rearview mirror.

      Kulak: A bubble 3rd pairing D-man who is quickly being passed on the depth chart.

      Klimchuk: He may or may not play another NHL game beyond the one he’s played so far and his chances of that are getting slimmer all the time.

  • MiamiRedhawks

    Unfortunately attendance doesn’t have much to do with hockey itself, rather than the management of the arena. The city of Stockton does that. There is no problem selling hockey in Stockton. It is the ancillaries that are killing the hockey experience. Parking is a nightmare, basically $15 for the garage or your car is getting broken into. $10/11 for a beer. $10 for nasty nasty food. Very little of the cost of a game goes to hockey, rather inflated charges going to the city. Arena management needs to change.

    • Stockton's Finest

      I may be wrong here, but from talking with Brian Petrovic and other Heat personnel, it sounds like the Heat will be more involved with arena decisions and management.

      I don’t know if you were at the open house this weekend, but I can tell you they are changing/adding new food vendors for this season. $11 beers are the norm for any sporting event. At least it is 16 ounces and micro-brew. I paid $18 for a 12 ounce beer at a concert last weekend. In 3 years, I have never had my car broken into, and I park in the lot across the street. I do know that the City runs the parking lots, so prices are set by them. Agreed that $15 is a bit steep. I buy a parking pass with my season tickets, so it is discounted to around $8 or $9 a game.

      Petrovic stated their focus this year is on fan experience. So far, from some of the things I have seen, I am expecting a better product, both on and off the ice.

      • Kevin R

        Those are pretty well the two important factors to hone in on. The product on the ice is Management responsibility & it should improve because it reflects on the main team. The moves this year are going to make a difference on the forward side. I cant remember feeling that the quality of forwards trickling right down to the 4th line ever. & I dont see any anchor veterans or $$$salary/contracts blocking the young guys for injury call ups or even making the 1 or 2 spots open on that 4th line. Injuries happen & that will keep the forwards hungry in Stockton.

        On D, Stone is the only meh player & contract that doesnt match up with projected spot in the lineup (bottom pairing/pressbox). Which is a shame.

        Then there is the experience at the event. As a Flames season ticket holder for many many years, you expect the highs & lows of team performance but if you combine crappy performance with feeling ripped off at the building, parking exensive, food is whacko priced & even the nachos are skimped on the cheese sauce & jalapeno peppers. Everything has shrunk. So if you feel like you are knowing you are going to a building so they can pick your wallet clean, well….. the team better be good & entertaining. Last year, I have to say, I was starting to feel fleeced by both. The changes Tre made have me excited again to see the product on the ice, but I make sure we go to Earls or the Keg or Smugglers & eat before the game so I dont need to get ripped off by the overpriced small portions of food at the Dome.

      • MiamiRedhawks

        That is good to hear that they are getting more involved in the off the ice product since it is a big part of the total experience.

        I am just sharing the sentiment I hear from people in the area. I talk to many different groups of people from my day job, winery and different circles of friends. Almost all of them don’t go anymore because of the things I stated.

        Random thought, how much of an impact has rule 46 (fighting majors) had? Just asking since Garet Hunt was a big draw and now PIM have been cut down.