The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 15, 2010

Chiefs plan to move franchise to South Carolina

JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Chiefs franchise will move to Greenville, S.C., after the current ECHL season concludes, pending approval by a Greenville arena authority and then the league, owner Neil Smith confirmed before Sunday’s game at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.

The Chiefs distributed an official news release after the game against the Cincinnati Cyclones.

“It was a combination of things,” Smith said, noting that his attempts to find a local owner to buy the team had been unsuccessful. “With the economy and the attendance going down and the cost going up, and the other thing that people might not know is our lease is up, and this is not against SMG, but early indications are the cost of the lease is going up. It’s not going down. We have to make a decision. What do we do? Really, we were left with no choice.”

Smith has been primary owner of the Chiefs since 2002, though he said he had openly invited local businessmen to either purchase the team from him or invest in the franchise in order to solidify its foundation in Johnstown during the past five years.

The Chiefs are the only original member of the ECHL remaining in the same city since the league formed with five teams in 1988-89. Johnstown has fielded an ECHL team for 22 seasons.

The Greenville arena board will hold a vote on today to approve a lease agreement with Smith and investor Steve Posner that would bring an ECHL team to the state-of-the-art Bi-Lo Center for the first time since 2006. The Greenville Grrrowl competed in the ECHL from 1998-99 through 2005-06, winning a Kelly Cup in 2002 and ranking at or near the top of the attendance category in its first four seasons before falling on tough financial times.

Should the Greenville board approve, as expected, then the ECHL Board of Governors would probably hold a teleconference call later this week to vote on approving the transfer of membership from Johnstown to Greenville.

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