Reno needs more ice downtown.
At least that’s the pitch being presented by the Reno Puck Club, which lobbied the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority board on Thursday to turn over management of the downtown Reno Events Center to the limited liability company so it can bring a professional hockey team to the Biggest Little City.
“Reno is a winter sports market but doesn’t have a winter sports team,” said Ken Lehner, a partner with Reno Puck Club. “It’s the largest market in the U.S. without a sheet of ice.”
With the National Hockey League awarding Las Vegas an expansion franchise that will start play in the 2017 season, interest in the sport should grow in the state, according to the company. This makes adding a professional ECHL team to Reno a perfect fit, Lehner said. With the league looking to add two teams, including one in the West, Reno could get an ECHL team as early as the 2017-2018 season, according to the Reno Puck Club.
The ECHL is a “AA” hockey league based in New Jersey. It is considered a tier below the “AAA” American Hockey League, with both officially recognized as hockey minor leagues by the NHL.
Reno used to have a hockey team, the Reno Renegades, which played at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center outside of downtown from 1995 to 1998. An ECHL team will need to average a crowd of 3,000 people per game to break even, said Lehner, who believes Reno has the size to support a team.
“There are markets in the ECHL that have less than half of the people in Reno,” Lehner said.
Data from the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shows that the Reno Aces minor league baseball team had an average attendance of 5,089 over its last 66 games as of Aug. 25.
To bring in a team, however, the group is requesting that the RSCVA turn over management of the downtown Reno Events Center to the company as part of a public-private partnership plan. The Reno Puck Club also will need to negotiate with the City of Reno, which owns the Reno Events Center.
Lehner claims that transferring management will allow the facility to generate more revenue, not just from having a hockey team as a tenant but by leveraging naming rights for sponsorship. Based on research done on similar-size facilities naming rights could bring in $300,000 to $400,000 each year — money that has been left off the table for years with the Reno Events Center, Lehner said.
Bringing in events such as hockey tournaments and Disney-style ice shows could also boost revenue and bring more events and foot traffic downtown each year. Reno Puck Club projects that enhancing the facility for hockey and ice events could drive up to 250,000 more people downtown. Lehner pointed to an EKAY Economic Consultants analysis commissioned by the City of Reno that showed a positive impact from having an ice rink downtown. It would also provide more charitable opportunities, including USA Hockey youth programs, the group said.
Getting the Reno Events Center to host hockey games and ice events, however, requires investment in improvements. The Reno Puck Club estimates a $5.7 million price tag for adding a professional ice surface, on-ice seats, modifications and locker rooms that will pass muster with the ECHL. The organization plans to raise the funds through public-private partnerships if it gets an agreement for the center finalized.
As for potential conflicts with the Reno Ice project that’s pushing for a state-of-the-art ice sports arena in south Reno, the Reno Puck Club says the projects could benefit each other. Both could work together on developing youth hockey programs and the Reno Ice arena could serve as a practice facility for the professional hockey team when the Reno Events Center is booked for other engagements. Reno Puck Club says it also will donate a portion of ticket sales to Reno Ice.
The company, however, is providing a tight deadline for inking a potential agreement, at least if it’s going to have a chance to get a hockey team in Reno in time for the 2017 season. Reno Puck Club says it needs to start negotiations before Sept.14 and have guarantees for a signed agreement by Oct. 14 for it to submit expansion approval to the ECHL by Sept. 27.
The RSCVA board voted on Thursday to start talks with Reno Puck Club. The vote is not an approval of the proposal but just a way to get negotiations started, Lucey said.
Reducing the number of facilities it oversees is one of the recommendations made in the RSCVA’s five-year strategic plan. The organization currently manages five facilities, including the larger Reno-Sparks Convention Center and the Reno Livestock Events Center.
“A majority of (convention and visitors bureaus) have one or two facilities that they oversee,” said Bob Lucey, chairman of the RSCVA board. “The board would like to focus more on revenue-generating facilities like the Reno-Sparks Convention Center and make sure we’re in the right business.”
RSCVA board member Glenn Carano of Eldorado Resorts, which owns the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus properties downtown, was receptive to the idea of an ice rink in the heart of Reno.
“Hockey, I think, is a big opportunity for Northern Nevada,” Carano said during the Thursday meeting.
John Farahi, CEO of Atlantis parent company Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc., meanwhile, said he would like to see a closer analysis of Reno Puck Club’s proposal. Farahi also requested that the RSCVA’s finance committee be involved in the negotiations before the proposal comes back to the board of directors.
“The key is the negotiation terms of the contract and what our obligations and the city’s obligations are,” Farahi said. “This is something not to be taken lightly.”