When the Phantoms announced last week they’d remain in Glens Falls for another season, their release contained a caveat that struck an unusual note to those not attuned to the unique rhythms of the drawn out dance between city and team.
Fairly high in the Phantoms’ statement, Glens Falls’ mayor Jack Diamond trumpeted the franchise’s pledge to step aside for parts unknown next season should another franchise pledge to move to Glens Falls.
“Why announce that part,” the Flyers own inside reporter Anthony SanFilippo wrote on Twitter. “Doesn’t instill confidence for fans for next season.”
That was a pretty typical reaction outside upstate New York.
But the optics in Glens Falls are never quite what they seem. Hockey’s future in the city is a political issue, for both the mayor and the team, and the maneuvering around it leaves a film of opaqueness over everything it touches.
This is high-stakes stuff for a politician. Having a hockey team in the Glens Falls Civic Center roughly 40 nights a year is good business for the restaurants, bars and hotels in downtown Glens Falls. Then there’s the constituency of hockey fans, who want the sport to remain for obvious reasons, not the least of it that being an American Hockey League city has long been part of the civic DNA.
Among those two bases are many who believe that the longer the Phantoms remain in Glens Falls, the harder it will be to recruit a new, permanent tenant. The Phantoms filling the building, the thought goes, prevents another from moving in. Worse, the case continues, the city’s recruitment efforts are hampered while the Phantoms stay.
Those sentiments have been argued in comments on The Post-Star’s website and on Facebook posts for years. The mayor’s remarks about the Phantoms’ willingness to give way for another team, and the Phantoms’ agreement to include it in their release, is aimed to pacify that crowd.
The mayor earns political cover for those who question whether he’s doing enough to lure a new permanent franchise. The Phantoms get to remain on the high ground that they’re doing everything possible to help the city remain an AHL market and claim the goodwill that comes with that.
It’s a win-win for both parties.
But let’s be clear on something: it’s likely window dressing. Barring a miraculous development or last-second savior, the Phantoms will play in Glens Falls next season. It just makes too much sense on both sides.
Even if Phantoms ownership isn’t pleased with its financial return in Glens Falls, the cost both in dollars and manpower of uprooting a team for one season, hiring a new base of employees, and marketing it to a new city is greater than remaining in Glens Falls. It’s also getting late in the calendar to pull off such a maneuver.
But that’s not the side I really care about. The Phantoms will be fine in the long run in their Allentown home, no matter what inconveniences they may have to bear next season. I’m much more invested in what happens to Glens Falls.
And the Phantoms staying another year makes sense for the city, too. Any argument that the Phantoms remaining scuttles the chance for a new franchise to come in relies on the belief that there are other AHL teams eager to move to Glens Falls. I’m not sure that’s the case.
There’s no doubt about the depth of passion for hockey there. It’s the breadth I question. The Phantoms’ average home attendance is 3,553, or fourth from the bottom in the AHL, and nearly 2,000 below the league average.
Could a different ownership and management group have made a difference? Some will tell you yes, but I’m not sure there are 1,000 extra bodies a night — a number guaranteed to attract a permanent franchise — to be found by anyone, at least with the dreadful product on the ice. Attendance was in decline during the late Red Wings years, and as a temporary tenant, this was always going to be a hard product to sell.
Whether the Phantoms management was the best shepherd for hockey in Glens Falls is besides the point, anyway. A franchise evaluating the city as a new home isn’t going to accept excuses like “the team stunk,” or “management did a bad marketing job,” or “we couldn’t accept them because they were going to leave.” Those may be true, but they’re going to look at the bottom-line attendance numbers, and right now, it’s hard to see how those would be attractive enough to draw another AHL team.
You never get a better chance to show you belong than when you actually belong. As my former boss, the long-time Glens Falls hockey writer Greg Brownell once said, “You have to dance with the girl that brought you.” And after a decade without an AHL team, with an aging arena, and lack of big corporate support, the prettiest girl was never taking Glens Falls to the dance. This isn’t about what you’ve done once, it’s about what you’ve done for me lately.
Just because the Phantoms are there doesn’t mean the city isn’t and shouldn’t be feverishly researching all their options with other franchises. My suspicion is that’s what’s happening, and perhaps their willingness to continue with the Phantoms reveals how that search is going.
Now, if the New York Rangers — currently the prettiest girl on the block — are ready to move their farm team into the Civic Center next season, then of course, jettisoning the Phantoms is the right move. That’s a no-brainer. I’ll come help pack the bags.
But I have to believe that before entering this deal, someone from the city did their due diligence and explored that option. They had to, right? You can’t kick the Phantoms out and just cross your fingers and hope the Rangers come through.
Short of those kind of dreams playing out, it seems the best thing Glens Falls can do for now to attract its next team is grit its teeth and dance with the girl that brought it.