San Francisco Bulls hold downtown press conference to formally announce new team for 2012-13 ECHL season
Two blocks from the historic Dragon Gate entrance to Chinatown, the San Francisco Bulls held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to formally announce their entry into the 2012-13 ECHL season. Bulls President/GM/Coach Pat Curcio was joined by ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna, Cow Palace CEO Joe Barkett, Daly City mayor Carol Klatt and Maureen McEvoy of the SF Chamber of Commerce to welcome the team to the city and discuss the process they undertook to bring professional hockey back to San Francisco after a 15-year absence.
Curcio noted that earning an NHL affiliation and putting together an inaugural lineup is a priority, but right now his staff has to develop the business side of the franchise first. Gathering advertisers, sponsors, and selling season tickets needs to be at the forefront. “The players are going to be out there, the talent is going to be out there. We are going to put a product on the ice that is entertaining,” Curcio explained. “I think the key right now is to focus on the business, the hockey side is going to come.”
The former minor league forward and coach said that lessons could be learned from the last hockey tenant at the Cow Palace, the IHL San Francisco Spiders (preceeded by the San Jose Sharks, and San Francisco Shamrocks). “We were really fond of their attendance. They drew well, they had a following,” Curcio said of the Spiders. “I think when the old IHL became a rival to the NHL the numbers just didn’t work from a business perspective.” The IHL started moving teams to NHL markets, and looked to take advantage of the NHL lockout in 1994. When the NHL returned with a shortened season they started shifting away from the veteran league that featured higher salary players. “From our business model and our league level, (the SF Spiders) business model would make a very profitable franchise… We know a lot has changed over the last 15 years, but we believe it has changed for the better.”
The San Francisco Bulls were officially welcomed to the city by SF Chamber of Commerce member Maureen McEvoy and Daly City mayor (and St. Louis Blues fan) Carol Klatt. After three recent Allstar Games in California (Fresno, Stockton and Ontario), ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said that the ECHL would love to bring the minor league showcase to the city by the Bay, but that the team needed to establish itself on the ice first.
Discussing a prominent trend of recent seasons, McKenna said NHL teams will continue developing top goaltending prospects in the ECHL. “It is one of the areas we have had success,” McKenna said. “The theory with most NHL teams is rather than having two young goaltenders playing in the American League and splitting the games, splitting the ice time, they would much rather have one guy in our league and one guy in the AHL where they are each getting 50-60 games of action.” The ability to play game in and game out and survive the professional grind also negates somewhat the shock younger junior and college players feel when moving up to the more rigorous professional level. “In our league, because it is an offensive wide open style of league, they are going to get lots of shots, lots of experience, and probably develop a little quicker.” McKenna and Pat Curcio pointed to Olaf Kolzig, Byron Dafoe and the Stanley Cup winning Tim Thomas as examples of goaltenders who played in the ECHL and then moved up through the system. Recent California examples include Jaroslav Halak in Long Beach, Devan Dubnyk in Stockton.
While the Cow Palace will be one of the larger venues on the ECHL landscape, the location of the press conference also pointed to one of the issues the team will have to overcome. Without being in San Francisco proper like the San Francisco Giants, and without a significant legacy fan base like the 49′ers, the Bulls will have to work hard to get a sizeable group of families and casual fans to make the short 20 minute hop down to Daly City. Marketing and heavy involvement in community and athletic groups in San Francisco should make that job easier. San Francisco is a city that sells itself, absorbing as much of that as possible can only help the Bulls. Blogger and San Francisco resident Marylisa Walsh does not believe that will be a problem.”They will come,” she said.
Pat Curcio said one of his primary points of motivation for his future players will be the NHL franchise 45 minutes down the penninsula. “It is an hour away, but it is a long road.” Curcio lingered heavily on the invisible middle syllable in long. “It’s a long road, but it starts here.”
Season tickets are on sale now from $650-1,440 per seat and will require a $50 deposit. The first 1,000 people to purchase season tickets will receive an inaugural San Francisco Bulls black t-shirt, and will receive preferred seating in their section. A photo gallery from the press conference is available here.
[Update] Partial press conference transcript:
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna:
I know that Pat Curcio, his wife Elouise and his entire management and ownership team have done a lot of work over the last several months, basically the better part of a year to make this day possible. From the league’s point of view, we are very excited about it. A little about the ECHL, we are entering our 24th season of play this upcoming season, which will get under way in a couple of weeks. We will operate this season with 20 teams. San Francisco will become our 21st team next year, and our 9th team in the Western Conference. We currently have 8 in the West and 12 in the East.
Over 460 players who started in our league have gone on to play in the National Hockey League. We are clearly a development league. We are the ‘AA’ league of hockey in the professional ranks. About half of our players on an annual basis will move up and play in the American Hockey League. Half of the coaches in the AHL, the ‘AAA’ hockey league, are former ECHL coaches. 7 of the 21 head coaches in the National Hockey League today, roughly 25%, are former ECHL coaches as well. The level and caliber of play is improving every year, and we are proud of that.
Why San Francisco? First and foremost we have a willing ownership group here that did a lot of research, checked out a number of markets in the East and West. Finally after about 6-9 months of searching, they settled on San Francisco. We really believe in the market, and they have an iconic facility in the Cow Palace that I am sure is excited to have hockey back as a permanent tenant. We have a base of hockey fans in the area, we know that. The Sharks played here for two years, certainly to full houses in the early 90′s, and there was an IHL team here in the mid-90′s as well.
From a league perspective, it is a good geographic fit for our teams in the Western Conference particularly those in California. We currently have teams in Stockton, Bakersfield and Ontario. What can the fans expect? A great entertainment product at a very affordable price. Most of our players are 1-3 year pros who are working on their craft, trying to develop and move up. Certainly you will see an entertaining and hard working group of athlete’s on the ice. Most of our fans our casual fans, mom’s and dad’s who want to take their kids to a family to a fun entertainment event. We believe the Cow Palace presents a great venue. We are sure the great team will put a great hockey operation on the ice and surround it with great promotional and entertainment ideas to make it a fun and affordable entertainment experience for families in the area.
The league routinely draws over 3 million fans per year, so we are certainly in the forefront as an entertainment option in North America. We are very much looking forward to the fall of 2012 when we can come to opening night here in Daly City and welcome the Bulls to the ECHL.
San Francisco Bulls President/GM/Coach Pat Curcio:
Thank you all for coming. It has been quite a journey to this point, it has been very exciting. There have been a lot of sleepless nights. A little bit about my background, I grew up as a hockey player. I played the better part of 12 seasons in the minors and in Europe. I learned the hard way to keep a keen eye on the business, even as a player I was always fascinated by, and always dreamed of owning my own team. I have had a few attempts over the years after I stopped playing in 2001. I have been coaching for the last 10 years. I have been in the management part of the game for the better part of 10 years, so this has been a dream come true for me. I couldn’t be sitting here without my wife (Elouise). She is the brains behind the operation.
A couple of years ago, we have made contact with Brian (McKenna) over the years. We have tried to get a couple of other franchises. We really wanted to be on the West Coast. We found that San Francisco is just the perfect market. We feel that there are a lot of people from the East that have moved here over the last 5-10 years. There hasn’t been pro hockey in San Francisco in 15 years. We believe we will be able to provide affordable entertainment for the families of San Francisco. Also providing secondary corporate opportunities for other companies that couldn’t spend big money for major league sports. We believe there is all of that and more here. We want to get out the grassroots, teach kids how to play hockey. We want to be part of the community, and part of all the little communities not only in Daly City and San Francisco, but everything in the surrounding areas as well. We really feel we can be a part of all that.
People ask me all the time, why San Francisco, why the Cow Palace. It is a funny story, we came to San Francisco. We looked and said how can this place not have a hockey team. I stuck my wife onto the whole project and she did a lot of research. She actually has some work here and she was here quite often. She kind of fell upon the Cow Palace and it works there. We talked to Joe (Barkett). Joe was a major player in this whole thing. Without Joe, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. He invited us out to an event at the Cow Palace. We went to see Cirque du Soleil and were sold. This could be hockey. This has a hockey feel, and it is an old barn. It is our barn now, and we are real excited.
We think what the San Jose Sharks have done here, and now living in San Jose, they have done a tremendous job in the industry for hockey, just building the game. Their attendance is close to 18,000 a night. I don’t know how many people travel from San Francisco, but when we talk to people it is a very difficult commute, especially at 7 o’clock at night. People are very excited to have hockey within a 10 mile radius, especially in our price range.
It is also awesome for the city. Someone told me the other day that we complete the city. That was nice to here. In January when football is over, we will be the only professional sports team in San Francisco playing until April, which is the majority part of our season. We are real excited about offering that to San Francisco, Daly City and the other local communities. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of (the ECHL). I coached in the league, played in the league. I can tell you numerous players are now in the National Hockey League. They have a number of fingerprints on that league, and they have done that for years now. These are young, hungry players that compete every night to try to make it.
We have to do some work on the Cow Palace, which we are excited to do. We plan to put new scoreboards, we plan to have new videotrons,
we plan to do some upgrading in the dressing rooms. They have already done lots of work in the concourse and the concessions. The place is great right now. We plan to upgrade the ice system, hopefully with our upgrades the Cow Palace will be able to attract some other event, things like Sesame on Ice and things like that, which have been here in the past.
Season tickets will go on sale right away. We hope to push to get people involved right off the bat. We have some great promotions. We are giving t-shirts away to the first 1000. The first 500 get a ticket to the rodeo. We are going to do things with pick a seat, and preferred seat, preferred parking deals for our season ticket holders. Now is the time to contact us and get involved.
Cow Palace CEO Joe Barkett:
We have been working together several months. We are very, very excited to have what we consider now to be our anchor tenant at the Cow Palace. It is going to, as Pat alluded to, help us continue the progress we have made the last couple of years, to bring more and more good family entertainment to the Cow Palace for the people in our community, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.
I want to say to anyone concerned, we are looking forward to a 36 game season. All the events that you enjoy at the Cow Palace now, from the dog show, to the rodeo, to the concerts, they will all still be going on at the Cow Palace. Thankfully we have really good cooperative discussions to make sure that can happen. The only difference is, in a couple weeks if you come out to the Grand National, you will see a rodeo out there. A year from now when you come out to the Grand National, you will see a rodeo taking place over the ice. You won’t know it, but it will be under there. That is true of a number of events that will be going on.
We are very, very pleased. We are going to make some terrific improvements to help us continue to grow. We are very, very enthusiastic partners we feel for the longterm with the San Francisco Bulls, for the benefit of San Francisco and San Mateo counties.