SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield Falcons are being sold to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, who intend to move the team across the country. According to a news release sent to 22News by Falcons spokesperson Andy Zilch, the Coyotes hope to have the team playing in Tucson at the beginning of the next season.
The Falcons, an American Hockey League franchise, have been affiliated with the Coyotes, but have been owned locally by Charlie Pompea since 2010.
The Falcons have struggled with poor attendance- failing to reach an average of 4,000 spectators or more per game since the 2002-2003 season. Twenty-four of the 30 teams in the AHL averaged more than 4,000 fans per game in the last season, with 20 of them averaging 5,000 or more.
A move from Springfield to Tucson would be in keeping with a growing trend in the AHL, in which NHL teams want to keep their affiliates geographically close. The nearest AHL franchises to Springfield are affiliated with NHL teams that are much closer in proximity- the Hartford Wolf Pack with the New York Rangers, the Providence Bruins with the Boston Bruins, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with the New York Islanders, and the Albany Devils with the New Jersey Devils.
Speculation about the move has been growing for the past week, as the Falcons wrapped up their season. A report in ArizonaSports.com cited sources saying that the Coyotes had been in discussions with Tucson city officials about locating an AHL franchise in that city.
The sale agreement will have to receive final approval from the American Hockey League’s board of governors. There will also need to be a lease agreement for the team to play at a Tucson arena.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, a season ticket holder, told 22News that he is disappointed to see the Falcons go, but hopeful that given the long history of hockey in the city, Springfield will soon become home to a new franchise. But he says that any new team would need stronger support than the Falcons have received in recent years.
“I still believe Springfield is a hockey town, and if and when we are able to again secure another AHL franchise, I really need the people- not only the die-hard fans, but the new people to come out and support professional hockey,” Sarno said.
All fans who have made advance purchases with the Falcons for the 2016-2017 season will receive refunds through the mail.