The Central Illinois Flying Aces won’t be returning next season to Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, the junior hockey team announced Thursday.
Team officials said the USHL granted them a one-year temporary withdrawal, meaning the team will be idle for the 2019-2020 season. Owners will “continue to evaluate opportunities to see the team resume play in the 2020-2021 season,” the team said in a statement.
“We haven’t been able to get the marketplace to buy into supporting a local product there,” Zoran Rajcic, vice president of Flying Aces owner CSH International Inc., told GLT on Thursday. “With the losses that have mounted over the last couple years, it was just getting difficult. We had to try and stop the bleeding and re-evaluate what we’re gonna do with the franchise.”
The temporary—at least—exit of the Flying Aces leaves the City of Bloomington-owned arena without one of its anchor tenants. The arena’s indoor football team, mostly recently the Bloomington Edge, will not return for the 2019 season. The future of pro basketball at the arena remains uncertain.
Bloomington hockey has cycled through several ownership groups, team names, and leagues since the arena opened in 2006 as U.S. Cellular Coliseum. The current junior hockey team started play in 2014 as the Bloomington Thunder. They played in the USHL, the top junior league in the country and the starting point for many future NHL draft picks and elite college players. The team rebranded as the Flying Aces in 2017—the building’s fourth hockey team name in 11 years.
The Flying Aces have struggled with attendance. The team averaged around 608 people in attendance in December, January, and February, according to event reports delivered to the City of Bloomington. Those games averaged a $3,930 profit for the arena, those reports showed.
“The last couple seasons in Bloomington have been difficult to get the business side of things going there. We haven’t been able to get the attendance we need to keep the business viable,” Rajcic said. “And to stop the bleeding right now, we asked the USHL what options we have.”
As a USHL franchise owner, CSH has rights to a 50 to 75-mile radius territory. Theoretically that would allow them to move their USHL team to another central Illinois city, like Peoria. But Peoria already has a hockey team—the semiprofessional Peoria Rivermen in the SPHL.
The Flying Aces’ current five-year lease with the arena ends at the close of this season, which has 15 games remaining, excluding the playoffs. Team owners said they “fulfilled all the terms of the lease and commit to ensure all vendors continue to be paid in full for all services provided.”
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Rajcic said.
CSH is based in Everett, Wash.
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