The owner of the hockey rink which formerly housed the Williamsport Outlaws said the team and the rink parted amicably and he believes the Outlaws can flourish in an area like Williamsport.
Bobby Reiss, owner of the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, N.J., said Friday that Williamsport has better demographics to support a team like the Outlaws, a low-level minor league team. The Outlaws are moving to Williamsport from Wayne, N.J., to compete this season in the Federal Hockey League.
The Outlaws will play their 30 home games in an outdoor rink in Bowman Field. They are set to open their season on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
"I think moving to your area is a smart move if they want to make one more attempt at it," Reiss said.
Despite winning the Commissioner's Cup championship in its first year in the FHL a year ago, Reiss said he don't think the Outlaws were financially successful. But it wasn't because of the product. He was pleasantly surprised by the level of skill in the FHL.
Reiss said, however, the Outlaws were lost in a hockey-hungry area in Wayne where there are three NHL teams (New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils) within an hour and 15 minutes of Wayne. And in the middle of an affluent area like Bergen and Morris counties, people are willing to pay the money necessary to go see NHL hockey.
In an area like Williamsport and Lycoming County, where the nearest pro hockey is in either Wilkes-Barre or Hershey Elmira, NY, Reiss thinks the team could be successful.
"I think you have the kind of demographics this kind of hockey requires," said Reiss, whose mother grew up in Scranton. "There's not a whole hell of a lot to do there in the winter. I think it's diversion for the consumers. And from the standpoint of the quality of hockey, it was better than I thought it ever was going to be. I thought it was going to be a goon league. The quality of hockey was better than I thought."
Reiss wasn't in charge of ticket operations for the Outlaws when they played in Wayne. It was something the team handled itself. But Reiss said he knows his building well enough to be able to eyeball roughly how many people are in it. He said the Outlaws averaged about 700 fans per game in a rink that has seating for about 700, although the Outlaws did put in extra portable seating. But he also said they've had as many as 1,400 fans in the rink for high school games because people will stand.
During the middle of the year he said the team would average between 300 and 500 fans. And following the holiday season when the team did work with the schools in the community, they would routinely draw from 600 to 1,000 fans per game. Reiss said there were probably one or two crowds of over 1,000 fans.
Outlaws president and head coach Chris Firriolo said the Outlaws would have to average about 2,000 fans a game to make their move to Williamsport financially feasible. Reiss made it known that the Ice Vault is not a hockey arena, it's a youth hockey facility.
The Ice Vault is set up to cater to the affluent area it resides in. It serves both lobster tails and filet mignon in a lounge area that has 10 television screens, including one that is 103 inches. It also houses a 3,000-square foot pro shop that is more of a retail store than just a pro shop.
Reiss called in one of the "finest youth hockey rinks in America." He thinks that is initially what drew the Outlaws to the Ice Vault.
"You can put sunglasses on an elephant, but it's still an elephant," Reiss said. "Underneath, I think (Outlaws owner Kristin Ann Rooney) wanted a true arena with more seats. But I think out by you, it's a different situation. Pennsylvania is a region that is made for hockey. I think this will be good for you."
The Outlaws held up all of their financial obligations with the Ice Vault and Reiss said his dealing with the Outlaws ended very well. The team and the Ice Vault actually had a three-year contract, but Reiss said with the team moving out of the tri-state metropolitan area, he wasn't going to hold them to the contract.
Rooney and the Outlaws are on the hook for much of the cost of upkeep and maintenance and repair to Bowman Field in their venture to play 30 outdoor games this winter. Reiss was a bit skeptical as to whether or not the team could be successful, but wished nothing but the best for the team.
"It's a great experiment," Reiss said. "I didn't want anyone in my facility to not be making money. (Rooney) is a nice lady and Chris tried hard. In your environment, I think they stand a better chance."