Sabres Respond to Reports of Amerks Moving to Another Arena

As another lousy season heads into the home stretch and another year without a long term lease it’s time for some more rumblings and rumors about the future of the Rochester Americans in Rochester. Unless a long term lease was never reported the Amerks have been running on one year lease extensions based on the terms of a lease that expired in 2013. In the late spring of 2015 it was confirmed that the Sabres had thought about playing up to half of the Amerks games in Buffalo before backing away from that.

Here’s what developed on Monday (Wednesday afternoon update down farther):

Update 3/1 – From D&C: Amerks officials in Rochester referred questions to Buffalo. In a statement Wednesday, Pegula Sports said that ownership “has been engaged in discussions with the hopes of reaching a long-term agreement for the Rochester Americans to compete in an improved facility that meets necessary arena standards. PSE is exploring all options for the Amerks organization with its primary preference to have the franchise remain a driver in the Rochester community as an anchor in the emerging downtown corridor.”

If there’s a primary preference it also means there’s a secondary preference.

There aren’t that many options around, though. The only arenas in the North East that come to mind that’ll be without major tenants next season are Albany, Portland and Worcester. FirstOntario (formerly Copps Coliseum) currently host an OHL team and could be a potential option. The Sabres run the HarborCenter so they wouldn’t have to inquire with anyone but themselves and that wouldn’t leak out. All of those cities have struggled with AHL attendance and the only thing they could potentially offer is bigger locker rooms.

What does all of that mean? Russ Brandon is playing the same game that Ted Black did with “options” outside of Blue Cross Arena. Check out public thoughts and put the pressure on SMG and the City of Rochester to keep the team around. The Amerks are the major tenant at Blue Cross Arena and it can’t lose them.

The last round of negotiations for a long term lease was based on waiting for a market study to come back about planned improvements to the building. As of December the City of Rochester was waiting for $10.5 million to begin work on the building this summer to improve the concession areas, restrooms and club seating (more expensive center ice seats).

It’s all about money but a major issue is that the arena isn’t a big money maker. As of a couple years ago the city was subsidizing operations of the arena as SMG was losing money. The roof of the building is too low to attract most major events and concerts. which prevents a consistent cash flow. Amerks have been averaging 5,601 fans a game which is 14th in the league. Put another 400 bodies in seats a night and they’re in the top 10. Club seating will bring in some additional revenue – but is it enough?

The Amerks have also played near the bottom of the league for the third season in a row. Do fans really care anymore? The games are tiring both on and off the ice. Put a winning team on the ice, win the Calder Cup that Terry Pegula promised us over five years ago, tickets will be big sellers and the money will flow in.