Council Members Approve Watertown Wolves Contract

Council members approve Watertown Wolves contract

By Craig Fox of the Watertown Daily Times |

Watertown, NY - Mayor Joseph M. Butler, Jr. insisted the city had to make some concessions to make sure that the Watertown Wolves minor league hockey team would return to play at the city’s ice rink.

“The goal was to have the Wolves back,” he told City Council members on Tuesday night. “That was the ultimate goal.”

Mayor Butler made those comments after council members Lisa A. Ruggiero and Cody J. Horbacz asked whether the city might have given up too much in the new contract with Wolves.

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, council members finalized a new contract with the Wolves for the 2018-19 season that reduces revenues to the city by about $6,400.

“I thought it was just worth asking,” Councilwoman Ruggiero said. “And how are we going to make up those numbers?”

The Wolves, an “A” level minor hockey team in the Federal Hockey League, play in the Watertown Municipal Arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. The team won the league championship last season.

Under the agreement, the Wolves will pay the city $31,460 for the use of the arena, down from $37,822 for last season. The cost of ice time that the Wolves would pay will decrease, from $110 to $80 per hour for practices. Ice time for games would remain at $150 per hour.

The Wolves are owned by International Development Hockey League LLC, which took over the team from a previous ownership group, Top Shelf Hockey, in 2017.

Before and after the vote, Wolves owner Don Kirnan, who is also the league’s commissioner, defended how the mayor and other city officials negotiated the deal. He also said the city needed to help out with some items so the team could cut its financial losses.

“They squeezed everything out of me that they could,” he said.

The Wolves are at about 80 percent where they need to be financially, Mr. Kirnan said. The team loses about $3,000 a game and need to have about 800 fans a game to make money.

Last season, the Wolves attracted an average of between 400 and 500 fans a game, Mr. Kirnan said, although the league’s website put that number at 690 a game. In all, 21,387 people attended games last year.

Mr. Kirnan insisted the $6,400 in revenue losses could be made up if the city and team work together and attract another 100 people a game. Focusing on group sales could be the difference, he said.

The city could make up the $6,400 through the concession stand it runs and makes 100 percent of its profits, he said.

Council members also expressed disappointment that the team would not shorten the season in April to accommodate for spring shows and events.

But Mr. Kirnan said the league’s majority owner, who possesses three of its six teams, would not agree to a shorter season.

“I would have loved the shortened season,” he said.

The franchise agreement will run from October 1 to April 24, 2019, with the last day of ice on April 21. The team will play between 26 and 30 home games at the arena.

The league includes five other teams. They are the Danville Dashers in Illinois, Elmira Enforcers, Mentor Ice Breakers in Ohio, Port Huron Prowlers in Michigan, and Carolina Thunderbirds.

The team opens the 2018-19 season on November 2 against Port Huron. Trevor Karasiewicz returns to coach the Wolves for a second season.