COMMENTARY| Professional hockey probably won't ever make a return to Flint, Michigan, a city that is in sad shape financially. If Flint-area hockey fans want to take in a high-level game, their only option is the North American Hockey League's Michigan Warriors.
The Warriors have teetered on the brink of leaving town for the past couple seasons. They enter their third season in Flint, playing at Perani Arena, this fall after leaving Marquette as the Rangers.
The club is making strides to win fans. I admire the gumption of coach Moe Mantha, who is a hard-nosed, yet fair coach who wants nothing but to place players at the next level. And the same goes for associate head coach John Hamre, who is easily one of the most genuine guys I've met in the local hockey scene.
And Leo Bodette, the team's trainer, is one of the hardest working guys in the business. He makes sure the players have their equipment in top-notch shape. All of that internal support would make the Warriors successful, one would think. However, that's not the case. The Warriors, despite being competitive in each of their two seasons in Flint, fail to draw crowds. They don't advertise, and the local newspaper, The Flint Journal, is about their only source of coverage other than a team blog and social media accounts.
It's taken the team's ownership two years to realize it made mistakes that have hindered progress. Perhaps an "I have hockey, no one else does" attitude came into play. Initially, the Warriors' ticket prices were quite high for the level their level of play. But the team recently announced that it's lowering ticket prices in order to engage a community that's pinching every penny.
That's a good start, I suppose. Better late than never.
I remember covering the team when I wrote for The Journal. I formed great relationships with Mantha, Bodette and Hamre. Players like AJ White, CJ Murray and Mike Economos, along with Bobby Bodette and Brach Tiller struck me as relentless workers dedicated to their craft. It was hard for me not to root for those kids, despite having to be neutral in coverage for the paper.
However, after leaving The Journal, I helped the team out with social media and online coverage. I became part of the team that no one in Flint came to see. I understood, to an extent, but just couldn't seem to fathom the idea of a community ignoring such young and talented players. It wasn't their fault the seats were empty. Many told me it was hard to get up for a game because of the lack of bodies in the seats.
Again, I understood their concerns.
I left the team in February after financial disagreements with management. Those problems weren't the kids' fault, nor were they Mantha's or Hamre's. But I had bills to pay, and being paid on time wasn't a high priority, apparently. Things didn't work out, and that's what happens when working with junior-level teams, I was later told by those who traveled down the same road with the Warriors. But I continued to wish the team well, despite my feelings toward management.
Part of the reason for the Warriors' lack of success is an outdated, stubborn approach to marketing by the team's ownership and management. The team would only get what it paid for, whether it be coverage online, or on radio and television. A team with such a low budget couldn't afford the necessary marketing plans to reach a large audience. Or so I thought. However, I don't think money was the issue. The willingness to spend it was.
The Warriors truly deserve fans. I can't speak highly enough of the players I used to associate with. Those guys were indeed class acts. Hopefully, for the returning players and incoming players, the Warriors get it right this season. There were reports that the team was to fold at the end of this past season. Of course, that didn't happen, but the Warriors were dangerously close to being out of town, according to what I was told by sources close to the team.
The following might seem like a threat. Why? Because it's been an opinion many who have covered Flint hockey in the past, watched Flint hockey, or know about Flint's hockey history have voiced regarding the Warriors: Flint fans, get out to the rink and support the team this year. It could -- like this past season -- be the final year of high-level hockey in Flint for a few years.
Adam Biggers has followed Flint hockey for over 20 years. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.