Dave Andrews, President of the AHL, was on XM Radio yesterday talking about Charlotte, NC coming into the AHL in the next year or two. This has been in the works for a long time, and I'm glad to hear it's coming along.
The logistics of this are interesting because unlike European leagues where there's relegation and promotion -- teams drop down a league if they come in last in the standings -- the minor leagues in North America don't work like that. Moving a city from one league to another is trickier and means buying and selling franchises.
The first thing that needs to happen for Charlotte to have an AHL team is to move the current ECHL Charlotte Checkers out of town. Who has the money and the interest do this? It's looking like the Checkers owner himself actually, with the understanding that they would affiliate with the Carolina Hurricans. It would be nice to have your top farm club nearby instead of in Albany, NY wouldn't it? And the Canes affiliation with the River Rats is up this year.
So now there's an ECHL team without a home. The owner could fold it up if he wanted, but how about moving it somewhere else, somewhere nearby that has a nice hockey arena...like say Greensboro? This city is strongly rumored to be getting an ECHL franchise next fall, and putting two and two together, I think it could be the former Charlotte franchise. The Canes could then have their NHL team and AHL and ECHL affiliates all in the same state. This makes for easy travel and good marketing. (Their ECHL affiliate is currently the Florida Everblades, but they don't send many players there.)
The investors in the Charlotte AHL team would need to purchase another AHL franchise to be able to move it to Charlotte. There are a number of struggling northeast teams, and the Iowa Chops franchise is also dormant. Any of these are candidates. The Edmonton Oilers own a dormant franchise too, but that's destined for Oklahoma City.
Could Charlotte to the AHL happen for fall 2010? It would be quicker than normal, but yes I think it could. There don't seem to be any big obstacles to overcome. I think the Charlotte fans would accept the new team. The arena can certainly accommodate what would likely be a somewhat bigger crowd; it is the NBA Charlotte Bobcats arena after all. It seats 14,100 for hockey.
Charlotte's closest AHL neighbor would be the Norfolk Admirals, located on the coast in Virginia, 327 miles away (5.5 hours). This would make Charlotte an outlier, but still much closer than Abbotsford, BC, whose closest team is in Winnipeg, Manitoba, half a continent away. Interestingly, Charlotte would not become Norfolk's closest neighbor, as Hershey is a hair closer at 318 miles away.
Brian Burke, when he was GM of the Anaheim Ducks, wanted to begin to move the AHL to the west coast. Maybe instead we'll see it move south, which has the advantage of keeping it closer to the existing teams. Travel costs can never be underestimated as a factor.
Charlotte has a metro population of about 1.8 million and is considered an up and coming city.
The last city to successfully move from the ECHL to the AHL was Peoria. They kept the moniker -- Rivermen -- which is rare.
Update (2/13/10): I'm hearing that rather than Greensboro, there's been some interest in moving the ECHL franchise to the midwest. But it's equally likely that it will just be folded.