Huntsville hockey and your tax dollars

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The Huntsville Havoc and the UAH Chargers have plenty in common on the ice. Both know how to win championships, both have passionate fan bases, and both appear to have bright futures.

"We have tons of hockey fans who come out and want to see the hockey and it's all about the hockey on the big nights, the big crowd is just people who just want to come out and have a good night," said Huntsville Havoc Owner Keith Jefferies.

In 2013, UAH will make a move to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association; a move that they hope will propel the program to a higher level.

"When we were trying to get into the WCHA, I kept saying it would be like opening the gates of heaven. It's going to happen with season ticket sales, contributions, scheduling, recruiting, and fan interest," said UAH Athletics Director Dr. E.J. Brophy.

Both teams have another key similarity - the place where both programs call home, the Von Braun Center.

In 2013, on their way to the SPHL finals, the Havoc helped the VBC turn a big time profit. The organization pays the VBC $2 for every ticket sold, plus an arena rental fee.

"We did generate in excess of $250,000 of direct revenue for the building this year between the arena rental and the facility fee of every paid ticket. I don't think that even compares to what UAH does." said Jefferies.

In 2012, the UAH hockey program skated in the red. After expenses, the program lost nearly $700,000. UAH's lease agreement with the VBC board of control is pretty simple. The Chargers must pay the center 50 percent of all ticket sales, a very reasonable agreement.

In 2012, the Chargers skated in front of the home crowd 11 times and they paid just $15,000 for rental.

This coming season, UAH should increase that amount since it has 16 games at home. And with the WCHA requiring its teams to play on Friday and Saturday nights, prime nights for putting fans in the seats, the chargers are now taking control of the VBC.

"We got on the books with the VBC, looked at the schedule, looked at everything that was involved - they were very accommodating, they got us the weekends that we needed," said Brophy.

UAH got the weekends they wanted and the Havoc got the boot.

So why would a college team generating less than 10 percent of the money the pro team brings in to the city-owned VBC get scheduling priority?

"Well I don't think priority is the word to use," said Brophy. "We're certainly a tenant of the building; we are certainly only one tenant of the building. We greatly appreciate being able to use the building."

By getting first call of the prime home dates, the Chargers were able to get the VBC to throw out good business sense, costing the city of Huntsville and the Havoc hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So why did the VBC make the move? For weeks we tried to get that question answered, but no one from the VBC would go on camera. We did get this response…

"We work with all of our clients to see that their events are scheduled on the best possible dates. We have worked closely with both UAH and Havoc as they coordinate their 2013-14 schedules with their respective conference and league. Both teams were able to coordinate their schedules to maximize prime available dates for each team."

We then took our questions to the mayor's office. Mayor Tommy Battle's representatives said at first UAH was given first priority over the Havoc.

Why should you care about the VBC cutting UAH a break? In 2012, the city of Huntsville budgeted more than $2 million of taxpayer money for the VBC. While the VBC doesn't share the profits, they do get a percentage of the tax dollars from the beverage and food sales. In 2012, the Havoc alone grossed more than $600,000 at the concession stand.

We asked the VBC if they were worried about losing money this upcoming season - money that will go to the tax payers.

"We are excited to welcome both teams back to the VBC this fall and we wish them great success in their 2013-2014 season," they said in a statement.

While the city said it will all work out in the end, for the Havoc it may end up being the end of their viability.

"Anything I say will be hypothetical because we haven't done it yet, but my guess is that we could lose between $100,000 and $200,000 in revenue this year," estimated Jefferies.

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