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The Youngstown Phantoms hockey team will be playing its 2013-14 season at the Covelli Centre.
The future of the team recently had been in doubt because of low attendance figures. Despite having their most successful season on the ice, the Phantoms averaged just over 1,000 fans per game.
“I think we had just under 40,000 fans last year. Our goal this year is to at least have 60,000,” said Covelli Centre Executive Director Eric Ryan.
The city had an opportunity to dump the fifth and final year of the contract.
“We just simply chose to honor that five-year agreement,” Ryan said Thursday evening.
The announcement came Thursday, just one day after Youngstown City Council approved a five-year management contract with Ryan.
“Bruce Zoldan and the entire Youngstown Phantoms organization have shown great dedication and diligence over the past several years and we look forward to a great season of hockey here in downtown Youngstown,” Ryan said in a news release earlier in the day.
“We are very excited to reach a resolution and continue moving forward with this season and beyond,” Phantoms owner Bruce Zoldan said in a news release. “I would like to personally thank Eric Ryan and [Youngstown Mayor] Charles Sammarone for their commitment to our franchise, and we are eager to continue working with them as we look to begin negotiations on a new arena lease.”
Zoldan said the team is not paying a $75,000 penalty for attendance being too low this season. But in order for the Phantoms to get another contract with the city, it will need more people on game nights.
The Covelli Centre makes all of its money on big concerts and events, but promises 30 dates each season for Phantoms home games.
“We’re not losing money. We’re not making very much, but we’re not losing money,” Ryan said of the hockey games. “It brings 30 additional dates. There’s a lot of supplemental value to having a team. And this late in the game, in June, being this far down the road, it would be hard for us to fill those dates.”
He said he has a plan to improve attendance at the hockey games.
“We’re gonna do more value menu games, $2 hot dogs, $2 beers, those kinds of things,” Ryan said.
Last season, under second-year head coach Anthony Noreen, the Phantoms set franchise records for wins (37) and home wins (19), and went undefeated at the Covelli Centre during the 2013 playoffs. They came within a game of advancing to the Clark Cup Finals, falling 3-2 to the eventual champion Dubuque Fighting Saints in the Eastern Conference Finals.
To illustrate the quality of hockey the Phantoms play, Zoldan had a picture of Brandon Saad, a former Phantom, and now an NHL Rookie of the Year candidate with the Chicago Blackhawks.
He’s also made a deal with Pittsburgh Penguins.
“They are going to help promote the Phantoms with their ticket fan base,” Zoldan said, which is similar to the cross-promotion done with the Cleveland Indians and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
“My goal all along was quality of life in Youngstown, bringing a good team here,” Zoldan said.
This is the final year of the contract, and Zoldan is optimistic of an extension.
“I’m comfortable that we’ll be here for many years to come,” he said. “Some time after the season starts, I’ll be sitting down with Eric and city officials to talk about the future and hopefully another five-year contract,” Zoldan said.
However, Ryan was not as committed.
“We’re just going to see how this year goes, and look at it when the time comes,” he said.
Zoldan also said that the Ice Zone in Boardman, which he owns and had closed, has reopened, though only one rink will be operating. The Phantoms are currently holding their 2013 Selection Camp at the Ice Zone to determine their roster for the 2013-14 season. Intra-squad games will be held Saturday through Monday and are free and open to the public.