Originally published in the 12/1/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.
BILLINGS — Billings is once again being asked to host a hockey franchise, only this time it is a professional team, a new one to be formed as part of the ECHL.
“The ECHL is a major professional league with 27 teams in the US and Canada. The play of ECHL hockey is at a higher level, and there should be no comparison to the semi-professional leagues with which Billings is familiar,” said Ray Massie, marketing director for MetraPark. “This is very far from Junior Hockey.”
Massie sees the proposal as a potential boon for MetraPark in terms of filling event dates and generating additional revenue. MetraPark Advisory Board members are broaching the proposal with considerable caution. During their regular meeting last Tuesday, the board failed to pass a motion to ask the county commissioners to pursue the proposal, with many board members saying they want more information.
The hang up is ice and timing. The four businessmen who are making the proposal are asking that MetraPark invest more than $3.1 million to install ice and provide for offices, locker rooms and training space. MetraPark abandoned their aging ice facilities some years ago.
That’s a tough decision to make, said County Commissioner Robyn Driscoll, given all the other constraints on the county’s budget.
“The county isn’t going to say here’s $3 million, go for it,” she said.
Commissioner Denis Pitman, who was also at the meeting, said the commissioners would like feedback from the board.
Massie laid forth details of the proposal, which would include a five-year lease agreement with the team. MetraPark’s finance team crunched the numbers, based primarily upon the experience of the franchise team in Rapid City, South Dakota and they believe the proposal is doable. The worst-case scenario is that MetraPark would break even and be left with a valuable asset – an ice sheet – that would accommodate MetraPark engaging other events, such as Disney ice productions or exhibition games, which would generate other revenues.