Any hockey team – no matter how lame the name or amateurish the logo – is better than no hockey, right?
That seems to be the sentiment of many hockey fans still grieving the loss of their beloved Columbus Cottonmouths.
Then there’s the other camp of loyalists – to both the brand and to Jerome Bechard – who have vowed to not support the Columbus Burn. That is, IF Fidel Jenkins succeeds in landing a franchise in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
I don’t agree with either of those positions.
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The last thing Columbus needs is another flimsy minor league sports team that plays in front of mostly empty seats more often than not. An exception to that would be an affiliation with Major League Baseball, because attendance is secondary to player development.
Jenkins doesn’t agree with those positions either. He’s not interested in running some half-baked operation just so he can fulfill his longtime dream of owning a hockey team. That’s exactly why he wants to change the name and hire new leadership.
Again, IF he gets the franchise.
Jenkins is an engaging guy. We talked by phone Saturday morning, and he graciously and eloquently answered every question, even some of the sticky ones.
Synopsis: He’s not open to buying the Cottonmouths’ name and brand, but he is open to something other than the Burn. Can we get an amen?
He respects Bechard’s value to the hockey community, but thinks that value may be better utilized in another capacity than general manager.
In both cases – loyalty to the brand and to Bechard – Jenkins raises a fair question. If that loyalty were so deep, why did the team become largely irrelevant beyond that relatively small fan base?
“There’s a disconnect there,” Jenkins said.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Jenkins. This is not some rich man’s whim. He discovered minor league hockey early in his professional career around 1999-2000 when he started going to Greensboro (N.C.) Generals games.
“My passion for hockey comes from the L.A. Kings,” Jenkins said. “I had a really good experience with Greensboro. Once I had the minor league experience, I fell in love with it.”
He loved the game and the experience. He carried that newfound passion to Bakersfield, Calif., where he became a sponsor of the Bakersfield Condors. He later entered into discussions to buy the team, but his divorce put those plans on hold. Fast forward a few years to 2008. He bought the Indiana (Pa.) Ice Miners in March, but quickly realized the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League was shaky, so he pulled out. The league folded.
Jenkins has put out feelers for another opportunity.
“Folks give me a call when teams are available,” he said.
Jenkins heard that the Cottonmouths ceased operations and the more he looked into it, the more the situation intrigued him. Suffice to say, the SPHL is intrigued by Jenkins. His plan is based on using sponsors’ money and creating value and incentives for them. That’s actually a very smart business plan. How much does it cost to advertise on TV? That depends on viewership. A 30-second Super Bowl spot costs much more than two minutes of a Braves-Padres game. On a smaller scale, the more people there are in attendance, the more value there is in corporate sponsorship.
“It is intriguing what he wants to do in Columbus,” SPHL commissioner Jim Combs said. “How he would approach it is extremely interesting.”
Back to the team name and Bechard.
Creating a new identity could be a good thing. As cool as the name Columbus Cottonmouths sounds, maybe it’s time for a fresh start. I’m not sure I buy his statement that he doesn’t want to tarnish the Cottonmouths’ name. But it would be his team. He has that right.
The Burn? No.
“Would I be willing to change the name?” he said. “Yes, under one condition. If we get a strong commitment from fans – I mean a really strong commitment like 2,000 go ahead and sign up to buy season tickets – then I would be all for the fans to change the name. I’ll be glad to.”
It’s also a team owner’s right to put his or her own people in charge. Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry right after buying the Dallas Cowboys. Just because Bechard is not running the show doesn’t mean there can’t be a place for him within the organization. And that’s not to assume Bechard will take just anything to stay in hockey or stay in Columbus. He’ll be fine either way.
Regardless, first things first. There has to be a team or everything else is moot.