Sears Centre to house new hockey team

Published: 6/19/2010 12:00 AM

The ownership of the old Chicago Hounds hopes a new hockey team can thrive skating at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

The unnamed franchise would play in the ECHL, which has 18 teams in the U.S. and one in Canada. Owner Craig Drecktrah has been in talks with the Sears Centre to bring hockey back to the arena for more than a year. Drecktrah ran the Hounds, which ceased operations in 2007 after the team played one season in Hoffman Estates. Officials are banking on some excitement leftover from the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run. The ECHL is a feeder league for the American Hockey League, where the Chicago Wolves play.

Drecktrah wants fans to help name the team and is holding a naming contest. The team, Sears Centre and village officials will host a news conference next week to announce further details about the team and the contest. Those details provided next week will include when the team plans to begin play.

While the Sears Centre has enjoyed recent success with successful concerts including Elton John and Friday's A.R. Rahman shows, experts say sports teams are the key for arenas' long-term success. Teams provide arenas steady income through a series of games schedulers can count on bringing fans through the turnstiles. The new hockey team could play as many as 36 home games.

"The Hounds certainly will help the Sears Centre," Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod said.

Much of the Allstate Arena's success in Rosemont comes form the steady stream of dates DePaul University men's basketball, Chicago Rush Arena Football and the WNBA's Chicago Sky can provide.

The Sears Centre has two regular tenants, the Chicago Slaughter indoor football team and the Chicago Bliss Lingerie Football team, with the Bliss playing only two home games a seasons.

Village officials hope the ECHL's brand recognition will also help attract hockey fans. The competition is considered greater than the play in the United Hockey League, in which the Hounds played.

The arena holds 11,000 fans, and arena officials are shooting for at least 3,000 per game, while team officials hope for more at 4,200 per contest which would bring the Sears Centre about $20,000 in profit per game.

The Hounds averaged 2,200 fans before Drecktrah folded the team with a season-ticket base of 300. Drecktrah said in 2007 when the Hounds ceased that the Sears Centre was charging the team too much for rent. The arena's executive director at the time, Jeff Bowen, said the Hounds were paying rent dependent on how many fans they drew, which in some cases meant they weren't paying any rent.

Now that the village of Hoffman Estates owns the building, there's a new management team in place under cable giant Comcast. Drecktrah's group will pay an undisclosed amount to lease the building; however, arena officials are more concerned with money spent inside the building, including concessions.

The Hounds' debut in November 2006 didn't go as planned. The game was canceled after the rink's ice melted. Drecktrah wasn't part of that, as he purchased the team in February 2007. McLeod called that incident "a total PR disaster."

"I'm quite confident that won't happen again," McLeod said.