Boardwalk Hall wants to show that Atlantic City is still a viable market for a minor-league hockey team.
Officials of the historic venue announced Friday night it will bring the American Hockey League back for the third year in a row with four Albany Devils regular-season games.
“We haven’t really talked with anybody for a little while about bringing a team down here, but we don’t want to dry the market up,” Boardwalk Hall general manager Greg Tesone said in a phone interview Friday night. “We want to make sure there is still interest here. We also want to use these games to show owners out there that there is a market here.”
All four games will be on Sundays at 4 p.m. Albany, the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, will take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Nov. 25; the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Jan. 13; the Adirondack Phantoms on Jan. 20; and the Hershey Bears on Feb. 24.
Tickets will go on sale next Friday online at the Boardwalk Hall Box Office and range from $16-$26 for individual games, $59-$99 for the whole four-game series.
“It is a great opportunity for our fans in New Jersey,” Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils’ president, said in a statement.
Albany played five regular-season games at the Hall in the 2010-11 season, and the AHL All-Star game was held there last season. Before that, the Hall had not hosted hockey since the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL relocated to Stockton, Calif., in 2005.
The five AHL games in 2010-11 averaged 3,498 at the Hall, which holds 10,820 for hockey games. The All-Star game last season drew 6,113.
“You can always draw more people,” Tesone said. “We always look to build attendance. But it was a good start for us. We were happy with how that first season went, and we know we can build on that.”
The Hall wanted to bring the Devils back last season, Tesone said, but they started working on it too late and were unable to make the dates work out. This year, they started talks in February.
“We were very aggressive,” Tesone said. “We made sure we got on it early enough this year and got the teams that we wanted and the dates early enough.”
Hershey and Adirondack were the most important, and not just due to their proximity. Hershey has a huge fan base, having led the league in attendance six years in a row. Adirondack is the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, who have thousands of fans in southern New Jersey.
Tesone pointed out, though, that Atlantic City also has fans of its own.
“There is a fan base still here from the Bullies’ days,” he said. “A lot of those folks came to the Devils, the All-Star game, the college stuff that we do.
“We need to broaden that now. We need to go out and get some new fans, or the ones who were not the die-hard Bullies fans. And then we’ll also work with the visiting fans and their teams.”
The question now is whether Atlantic City fans will have a team of their own again in the future.
If the city were to pursue an AHL team, the Devils might be the easiest to lure. Albany has ranked last in the league in attendance in each of the past two seasons. The franchise drew an average of 3,435 per home game last season and 3,059 the previous season, not including the five games in Atlantic City.
But Tesone said that’s not something he’s actively pursuing.
“We really haven’t had any conversation with the Devils about moving down here,” he said. “Our interest in bringing a team in here is we’re not going after a specific team. We really just want to show that there’s still interest in the market, and whatever potential owner might want to (move a team here) ... we’d be interested to talk to.”
The Devils are entering the third season of a five-year lease at the Times Union Center in Albany. But they can opt out after this season with no penalty if they notify the arena by Dec. 31, Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber told the Times Union newspaper in an article published last month.
Belber told the newspaper he was concerned about Glens Falls, N.Y., trying to get the Devils after the Adirondack Phantoms leave that town for Allentown, Pa., next season. Belber said he sent letters to “personal friends in the community” pleading with them to buy season tickets.
Should the Devils decide to look south for a new home, though, Atlantic City would seem to be a favorable destination, especially if these four games at Boardwalk Hall go well.
Tesone said the past two seasons have been valuable in terms of adjusting to hosting only a few games per year, as opposed to having had the Bullies for entire seasons.
“We’ve got kind of the model down,” Tesone said. “Now it’s kind of just tweaking our approach to drive more people to these games.”
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