Q&A with Darren Abbott, Part Two
MV: From a league standpoint, I’m guessing that travel costs out West are a lot more expensive. They must spend a lot of time in airports. Is there ever thought that you Eastern Conference teams should help foot the bill?
DA: “I don’t know how they do it. They do spend a lot of time in airports and they fly commercial. That’s interesting. They were the West Coast Hockey League. They came into our league, and they sold it as, ‘We’ll come into your league and we will give a stipend to the East teams coming out to play us. We’ll house them and pay some of their travel costs for teams to come out. And now that has gone away a little bit.
“They’ve gotten better because there are more Western teams now. You can now fly into Bakersfield, and you can go play Long Beach and go play San Diego last year and drive to Fresno and drive to Stockton. It’s gotten a little bit better. There used to be just one team in Southern California, one team in Northern California. There is a little more busing involved in it.
“When we went out there to play, we flew into LA-X. Our bus picked us up out there. We played Long Beach for two, bus to San Diego, bus to Bakersfield, bus to Fresno and then we bused all the way to Boise, Idaho. I got off in Tahoe to go skiing so I don’t know how long it took them to get there. I had one of those Southwest flights for $49. I got off at a truck stop in the middle of the night and the players were like, ‘Where’s he going?’ I don’t have practice tomorrow, guys.
“I don’t know how [some teams] do it. A lot of them have trade deals or corporate partnerships with airlines. Alaska for example, they’re partners with Alaska Airlines. They still have to pay, but we pay pretty good money for the bus. Sure it’s an added expense. We pay probably $70,000 a year for our bus. If we had Southwest here and I could send 20 guys to Ft. Myers for $49, I’d be doing that.
“They do have a lot of challenges out [West] that we don’t have. They don’t have any commuter games. We have Columbia up and back, Charlotte up and back, Gwinnett up and back, Augusta up and back. We’ve got four commuter cities now so there is no hotel involved in that whatsoever. Myrtle Beach will be coming [into the league] in ’08, so that will be another up and back. Those really help. Hotels are a big to-do. Those western teams, part of me wonders how they do it. But they’ve done it.” MV: What about the schedule? Is there a sense that fans would want to see more of the western teams or the northern teams? Are they getting tired of seeing Columbia all the time?
DA: “Yes. I think – and it’s easy for me to say because we’re basically in the middle – that at a minimum we should play every team in our conference at least once. I know this is a hot button issue in the NHL right now. It doesn’t cost us any more money to bus to Dayton, Ohio, than it does to Ft. Myers, Florida. And the hotel is probably cheaper in Dayton. I think that we should get into a schedule where if there are eight teams in the North, we should go play Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo and Wheeling in one year on the road. And then Trenton, Reading, Johnstown, they come down here. And then the next year we go to those cities. I think we should get into something a little more standard like that. I think it would help the schedule-makers, but it might add a little bit to some teams’ expenses. I know Florida for example, they’d say, ‘Boy, we’ve got to bus up into Ohio.’ But I think it would make it more exciting for the fans just to have a different look. Eleven games against Columbia, 12 games against Charlotte, I don’t think it’s as exciting as it could be.
“It used to be that you played a more balanced schedule. I have some of the old pocket schedules. We played Knoxville, then we played Huntington, then we played Charlotte, then we played Roanoke, then we played Richmond. So you had all these different teams coming in. When PeeDee, which is in Florence, South Carolina, came into our league, that was our first close rival. That was the first team in the state of South Carolina besides the South Carolina Stingrays. We saw our attendance spike when they came into town. Now we play these teams so many times that there is no spike when they come into play. I’d like to see that created again. And for the hardcore fans that come to every game, I think they’d like to see some of these other players.
“It was originally set up that you were supposed to go out West once every three years. Somehow that has gone away. I think it would be better for the league to do it. We’d be willing to do it if we could guarantee we were going to see Alaska and we were going to see Bakersfield come in here. Once a year we’re going to have three or four western teams come through and three or four northern teams come through. There’s eight games out of 36, so you’re at 28 now where you have to play your rivals rather than 34 or whatever it is now.
“There’s nothing that says you can’t go to Cincinnati and play on a Tuesday night, and then play in Toledo on Wednesday, then go to Dayton and play Friday and Saturday, then go over to Wheeling and play Tuesday and come on home. So you get five games out of that trip. There’s nothing that says you can’t do two-game sets with these out-of-conference teams. If you were going to play the western teams, you’d have to play two-game sets with them. Because they’ve got to travel all the way in here.
“If I was going to fly the team to Alaska, I’d want to play a minimum of three games in four nights. I’d want to play a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and then fly home, rather than play a game or two. Every road game we see as an expense, so you’ve got to try to knock as many off as you can. So if you went to Alaska and played three, and Victoria and played two, at least you got five of your road games out of the way. That’s five times you don’t have to buy a bus.”Q&A with Darren Abbott, Part Three, Page 2