The state of Alaska is not only considered an outsider due to it’s proximity to the United States, but also with its blatant lack of professional sports — a privilege that much of the Lower 48 takes pride in. Up until now, Alaskan sports fans have had the Alaska Aces to follow and create local support around, but as of mid-February the decision to terminate the future of the team has been announced as a shock to much of the state, sports fans or not.
The Alaska Aces, previously known as the Anchorage Aces prior to 2003, have been competing in the ECHL for the past 14 years and were a part of two other leagues before that. Established in 1989, the Aces have been proudly representing Alaska for a total of 28 years, including winning five regular season titles, eight division, four conference championships and three Kelly Cups.
The announcement to terminate the team was an unavoidable choice made by Aces officials due to economic reasons and a declining audience, but it still came as a shock to the public that leaves many unanswered questions.
Anchorage locals, such as former UAA student and avid Aces fan Jon Mobley, are very baffled by the decision, especially since the Aces are the one professional team the Alaskans have.
“I go [to] the games pretty regularly, probably at least twice a weekend when they play at home.. it was a surprise to me. There have been a lot of states that have lost their ECHL teams, but it doesn’t affect them as much because most states in the Lower 48 have basketball, football, baseball and NHL teams,” Mobley said.
The big question that remains is the future of the Sullivan Arena, considering the amount of lost revenue. In addition, the UAA hockey team could take a potential hit for this – positive and negative.
Officials such as the Aces Managing Partner Terry Parks explained that they looked into all possible scenarios to keep the team, but every possibility leads to even more problems. According to Parks, the Aces lost over $1 million in 2016, a substantial amount that would be extremely difficult to come back from especially with the prediction of similar losses in 2017.
For just this season, the Aces are down upwards of 2,000 spectators per game, as well as over $250,000 in ticket sales and $600,000 in sponsorships.
Aces owner Jerry Mackie explained that he is extremely saddened by the final decision and feels as if he’s losing a family member, but there was no other option.
Without the team, the Sullivan Arena may experience dire effects. The arena will obviously have a lot more openings for scheduling that can be filled in order to replace the lost revenue, but it is doubtful that all spots will be close to being filled.
UAA hockey will still rent out the venue, and so will special events such as concerts. However, the loss of the Aces is already creating a downward trend after the Great Alaska Shootout was moved from the Sullivan Arena to the Alaska Airlines Center in 2014.
However, even though Sullivan might see a negative outcome, the UAA hockey team might gain the Aces lost audience.
“It could potentially be a really great outcome for the UAA team; Aces fans could become bored of restless in the winter and possibly go to [UAA hockey] games to get their fix,” Mobley said.
Currently, the Aces are on a road trip competing out of state, but they will have their first home game back in Anchorage at the Sullivan Arena on March 15. Afterward, the team plays several more home and away games until their final home game on April 8.