MANCHESTER — The Manchester Monarchs are being marketed for sale to new owners less than three years after the current management group bought the minor league hockey team.
Despite steadily slumping attendance at SNHU Arena, the ownership group and the arena’s management team are confident new buyers would be found to keep the ECHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings in the Queen City.
“We look forward to finding the right person or group to continue the affordable, family-friendly, and championship-caliber professional ice hockey experience here in New Hampshire,” said Manchester Monarchs President and CEO Brian Cheek.
The ownership group has hired The Sports Advisory Group, a Maryland firm that helps broker the sale of pro sports teams, to find the new owners.
Back in August 2016 the same sports brokering firm had identified former Wesleyan University alumni friends including Cheek to buy and run the Monarchs.
“I have long been familiar with the Monarchs’ strong brand,” said Tommy George, senior associate at The Sports Advisory Group. “The team occupies an esteemed position and reputation in the professional hockey landscape and I know this is a fun, fulfilling business for one looking to continue its tradition.”
In August 2016, the ownership group led by majority owner Marc Casper, CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific based out of Waltham, Mass., came to terms to buy the team from AEG, the entertainment group that had owned both the NHL Kings and the Monarchs.
The firm that runs SNHU Arena, SMG Group, said in a statement it was optimistic new buyers would support keeping the team in Manchester.
“We currently have in place an operating lease with Monarchs ownership which continues for several more seasons,” said Jason Perry, assistant general manager of SMG. “Professional hockey has been a successful part of the event mix at the SNHU Arena for many years and we expect that it will be for years to come.”
A spokesman for Cheek said the terms of the lease between the team and the arena are confidential.
As for whether the new owners will assume that lease or negotiate different terms, Monica Holt of Ping PR Public Relations and Marketing said this would be between the new owner and SMG.
“We have spoken to a variety of interested parties and anticipate finding a suitable next owner,” Holt said in a statement.
“The process is ongoing and as you can imagine it can happen very quickly if the right buyer comes along or it could take time. We are doing our due diligence and the Sports Advisory Group is our partner in finding the right buyer.”
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig also sounded bullish about the future of the team, issuing a statement nearly identical to the SMG Group’s comments.
“SMG, who manages the SNHU Arena, has an operating lease with the Monarchs that continues for several seasons. The SNHU Arena is a key partner in our efforts to make Manchester’s downtown a destination for residents and visitors,” Craig said.
“Professional hockey has been a successful part of these efforts and we expect it to continue for years to come.”
Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said the Monarchs remain a critical piece of the city’s downtown business model for the future.
“The Monarchs are an important cultural institution in our community that has contributed to the vibrancy and growth of downtown Manchester. The Greater Manchester region is a proven market for professional hockey which, combined with the exciting economic growth occurring in the city and across the region, will make the team very attractive to potential owners,” Skelton said.
“I give my thanks to the current ownership team for their efforts and commitment to the community and the chamber and business community will look forward to partnering with new ownership in the future.”
Cheek said the public should not notice any change in team operations while it searches for a new buyer.
“The Monarchs brand has solid household name recognition across New England and the league,” Cheek said.
“The team has certainly made an impact in the community with fans, our corporate sponsors and the countless nonprofit organizations that have benefited through the Monarchs Care Foundation. The legacy of Monarchs hockey in Manchester is second to none. Our goal is to preserve the consistency of day-to-day operations both on and off the ice. Tickets are being sold. Group events are being planned and Max will continue to host birthday parties.”
The Monarchs have been in Manchester since 2001 and for many years were among the most successful franchises of the American Hockey League that feeds top talent to the National Hockey League.
Then in 2014 the Los Angeles Kings decided to move its AHL team to the West Coast, citing the need for its top team to have front-line talent geographically closer to the big league club.
At that point they designated Manchester the Kings’ franchise for the ECHL, which is two levels below the NHL.
When Cheek and his team took over the Monarchs in 2016 the team had been drawing an average of 4,600 fans per game.
During the 2017-18 season, the Monarchs’ attendance had fallen to 2,793 per game which ranked Manchester 24th among the 27 teams in the ECHL.
So far this season the Monarchs have been drawing 2,492 per game, ranking it 25th among ECHL teams.
The Monarchs have been a perennial playoff contender and won the Calder Cup in 2015.