Bloomington’s downtown arena will get a new hockey tenant following a one-season hiatus.
Barry Soskin will be the majority owner of a Federal Prospects Hockey League franchise at Grossinger Motors Arena for the 2020-21 season. Soskin, who owns two existing FPHL teams, joined league commissioner Don Kirnan in making the announcement during a Wednesday afternoon news conference at the arena.
“I have followed the different hockey teams that have been here; I know some of the former owners and how they ran the team prior,” said Soskin. “I think we put a little bit more emphasis on marketing and promotion, which will enable us to get more people in the building. That will create the atmosphere we want to create.
“There are so many people right here, there’s got to be a way to get them to come in and enjoy themselves. What I want is when you walk in this building, you’ll know that something different has happened. You’ll see all the things we’re going to try to do to promote and to help the fan atmosphere.”
Before the new team arrives, the arena will host three regular-season neutral site FPHL games early next year. The defending champion Carolina Thunderbirds will face the Danbury Hat Tricks on Jan. 3 and 4, while the Danville Dashers and Port Huron will square off March 21.
“They’re not exhibition games; these games count in the standings,” said Soskin. “There’s no secondary players playing; it will be the front-line guys. You’re going to have every coach, every player, every shift playing their hearts out just like they always do.”
Owned by the city and managed by Iowa-based VenuWorks, Grossinger has a seating capacity of about 7,000 for hockey. Soskin, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, said the new franchise has a “multi-year” agreement with the arena and will conduct a “name the team” contest to help establish a strong fan base.
“We’re going to call it what the fans want, because I think that’s one of the things I really bring into the equation,” he said. “We’re going to see exciting, fast, hard-hitting, creative – maybe a few fights here and there – hockey. That’s what I like, that’s what I believe sells, and that’s what we’re going to try to put on the ice.”
Soskin’s other FPHL franchises are located in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Danville. He said hockey is the perfect product for a Bloomington-Normal market with a family-friendly, blue collar demographic.
“Tell me what more I am looking for? I believe there’s certainly enough people around this area to fill this building,” he said. “I certainly know there are hockey fans that will help fill this building. We’re creating a natural rival with another one of my teams just down the road. All these things come into play on how I think this will be a good, solid venue for the Federal hockey league.”
The Illinois State University club team is the arena’s only current tenant after the junior-level Central Illinois Flying Aces suspended operations in April. The new franchise will be the first pro team to call the arena home since the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Thunder (originally the Blaze) folded in 2014.
Mayor Tari Renner said he’s thrilled a new hockey team will call the facility home.
“I think it speaks very highly of Bloomington,” said Renner. “This is certainly not just an entertainment option but it’s an economic development tool, and obviously it helps us with the bottom line in financing. I think this is win, win, win and win.”
Danville is closest to Bloomington among the 10 current franchises; other teams are based in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina. Kirnan said the FPHL expects to have 13-14 teams in 2020-21, with announcements on additional franchises likely within the next 45 days.
“We have other markets that we’re working on that geographically work very well for this area,” said Kirnan. “I believe this is the right size building, something that will allow us to pull out all the stops. This will fit really well.”
Teams in the FPHL, nicknamed “The Fed” and based in Syracuse, N.Y., play between 28-30 home games per season from late October through the end of April. The league uses the Olympic standings system, which awards three points for a win.
“What I bring to the table is the fact that I’m a fan. If I’m seeing a garbage product, you’ll be the first to hear about it,” said Soskin. “I want to make sure it’s what I want. Every time we’ve been successful, it’s been what I’ve wanted to see out there.”
Arena executive director Lynn Cannon said tickets for the three neutral site games will go on sale sometime next week through the website Bloomingtonprohockey.com.
“Our job isn’t to gouge people. Our job is to create family entertainment, affordable family entertainment,” said Soskin. “That’s huge now. Everybody wants a place to go and something to do. We can’t give it away, but we certainly want to rock this building.”
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.