COLUMBUS, Ga – The next chapter of professional hockey in Columbus will come with big changes if all goes according to plan for potential team owner Fidel Jenkins. Jenkins is finalizing negotiations to secure the Columbus affiliation in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Financial details of his agreement to purchase the SPHL franchise were not disclosed.
Jenkins met with members of the media on Wednesday at the Columbus Civic Center and laid out his plan to restructure pro hockey in the city with a new franchise, the Columbus Burn.The team’s logo, which Jenkins designed himself, is a blue teardrop-shaped flame. Jenkins says he chose the team name Burn because no other pro sports franchise in the country is using it.
There was an option for Jenkins to purchase the Columbus Cottonmouths brand from the team’s previous owner, Wanda Amos, but he declined.
“I respect the traditions that Wanda has done,” said Jenkins. “She’s been fantastic keeping a team here for this amount of time. Her personal sacrifice in doing that was phenomenal, and that cannot be replaced” he continued. “And I am not trying to replace anything that her organization or Jerome (Bechard) have done.”
“What I’m trying to do is create something new and turn the page and do something completely different. And that was one of the main reasons why I chose not to purchase the Cottonmouths name,” said Jenkins.
The Cottonmouths franchise operated in the city from 1996 through 2017. The Amos family put the team up for sale in March, citing annual financial losses over their 17 year period of ownership. The Cottonmouths franchise rights were purchased and re-branded as the expansion Birmingham Bulls according to Jenkins. The Bulls franchise announced approval to join the SPHL on April 26.
The SPHL schedule for the 2017-18 season has already been submitted. It does not include a team from Columbus.
The Columbus Burn would begin play in the SPHL for the 2018-19 season.
Jenkins runs a New York City based online real estate brokerage firm. He says he plans on being in Columbus as much as possible and considers himself a ‘very hands-on owner.’
He showcased his four part ownership plan on Wednesday first to potential sponsors, and then to the media.
The first part of the plan is the re-branding of the team to the Columbus Burn.
“We are a hockey team. Now, granted, we’re in entertainment. But we are a hockey team and we’re going to do our best to win,” said Jenkins.
The second part is a restructuring of sponsorship, going to an exclusive category system. Jenkins’ presentation included a slide featuring 200 sponsors at $3,000 each, totaling $600,000. The presentation also showcased a sliding scale for sponsorship starting with a $25 flat rate, and increasing $25 for every 1,000 fans per game. New inventory for sponsors was also noted, including video ads and digital banners created at no cost for advertisers, which would be displayed during games.
Those ads would appear on a new digital video scoreboard hanging above center ice. Jenkins says he will fund significant improvements to the Columbus Civic Center as part of his lease agreement, which he says is 99 percent complete. The improvements would include the new video scoreboard, a new sound system and digital dasher boards around the arena.
“We want to be as transparent and as good a business partner with our sponsors as we can be,” said Jenkins.
Ticket prices for upper level seating would be reduced to $5 for all games. 70 percent (5,332) of the arena’s 7,500 seats are in the upper concourse. The presentation noted that there was an average of 300 or less fans in the upper level seating for all but five of the Cottonmouths games last season. Lower level seating prices would remain the same as prior seasons, ranging from $14 to $30.
“We want season tickets, obviously. But our plan is not based on it,” said Jenkins.
“Our plan is based on a game-by-game basis,” he added. “Because if you really think about it, some families can’t do 28 games. That’s a lot of games to do. We’re going with 28 separate game themes to get there so we can reach absolutely every neighborhood and demographic in the entire city, county. We want everybody,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins’ proposal estimated an increase of 2,000 to 4,000 fans per game in the upper levels due to the reduced ticket prices, along with new attendance-based game-day giveaways. The model presented featured movie tickets, shopping sprees, family vacations and a new car as potential prizes depending on attendance. The giveaways would be funded by the new sponsorship structure. A more detailed list of the giveaways is presented below.
“We’re not talking about a Military Appreciation Night. We’re going to honor them every single night,” said Jenkins, whose wife is a Marine. “We want people to know we are committed to this market.”
Different nightly ‘game themes’ would also be part of the enhanced fan experience at Burn games. Jenkins says they also plan to host non-hockey events at the arena as early as October, contingent upon the completion of a lease agreement. These would include a Halloween Masquerade, New Year’s Eve Masquerade and a Valentine’s Day murder mystery night.
Columbus Cottonmouths legend Jerome Bechard, who has been the face of the franchise for more than two decades as a player, coach and general manager, was not at the meeting. Bechard told News 3 on Tuesday he was traveling with family during the week and would not be at the meeting. Jenkins is implementing a transition team for the Columbus Burn. He has offered a spot on that team to Bechard, as well as a role with the Burn franchise.
Jenkins says that role will not be as the lead of the organization. “I let Jerome know, that he doesn’t have the top job, but he does have a job with the organization.”
Jenkins says his focus is on the fans and their experience at Burn games.
“I really would like to do what’s best for them, to do what’s best for the community,” he said. “And I’m a listener, so it’s a situation where I’m willing to listen to what their concerns are and let’s see if we can address them.”
Below is the attendance-based, game-day giveaway prize list presented to the media
- Up to 1,000 fans = Two movie tickets to 10 fans each
- More than 2,00 fans = Free gas for 20 additional fans
- More than 3,000 fans = Two fans will receive rent or mortgage payment for one month
- More than 4,000 fans = 10 fans will receive a cruise for two
- More than 5,000 fans = Two fans will win a seven-day cruise for two
- More than 6,000 fans = One fan will win a Disney family vacation
- More than 7,000 fans = One fan will win a new car, motorcycle or RV