Today shock waves were sent through the East Coast Hockey League as well as the Chicago hockey scene when the Express announced earlier today out of nowhere that they are folding after just one season of play. Although the 2011-2012 ECHL season was their only season of play, the Express first came into inception back in 2009.

The team name was derived from Chicago’s status as a major transportation hub for both business and commercial purposes. The team name was voted for by the fans as part of a campaign by team Owner Craig Drecktrah. The Express played it’s home games at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. They are the second pro hockey team that has played in that building.

The Chicago Hounds of the United Hockey League played at the Sears Centre from 2006-2009, they would eventually go out of business as well. The hockey team from Robert Morris University also calls the Sears Centre home. As a member of the ECHL, the Express had ties to both the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League. The Express’ NHL affiliate was the Columbus Blue Jackets, their AHL affiliate was the Springfield Falcons.

The Express in their only season of play struggled at the beginning of the season, but pulled it together in the 2nd half and almost made the playoffs. But they fell apart during the final two weeks of the season and wound up missing the playoffs. Some of the Express’ players spent time with their respective NHL and AHL franchises at various points during the season.

Now while the ECHL is considered the number three league behind the NHL and AHL, the Express did not live up to that standard. As you have read in past reports right here on, I have covered a few express games this past season. And I can tell you first hand that the Express seemed more like a local semi-pro team then a mid-level professional hockey team.

Now while no official reason has been given by Express management for their demise, after covering the team I think I have some pretty good ideas as to why they went under. For starters the Sears Centre holds 9,500 people for hockey. The Express only averaged 2,500 fans per game, the ECHL’s average attendance for the 2011-2012 season was 4,280 per game. Some nights the Express barely had 1,000 in attendance.

Another reason is the location of their venue. Hoffman Estates is located on the border of Northeast Kane County and Northwest Cook County. Now while local attendance was pretty good, the Express had a hard time attracting fans from outside their region. The hardest fans to reach were fans in the heart of the city and areas south of the Eisenhower Expressway.

Even though ticket prices were reasonable, the cost of gas, tollway prices {Depending on where you came from you’d have to take the Jane Addams Tollway I-90.}, and the distance wasn’t worth it to some potential fans. A lack of promotion could also be a valid cause. It amazed me that the Express had so many sponsors despite the lack of advertising. God bless their sales department. But I never saw any commercials on television, didn’t hear any on the radio, and didn’t see any print or internet ad’s either.

And of course a lack of promotion leads to a lack of media coverage. The Express did not have a radio or TV deal to broadcast their games. Instead the Express streamed their games online which didn’t attract many viewers according to my research. During the last game I attended back on March 25th, aside from the Express’ play-by-play man Bob Mills, and the visiting team’s radio commentator, the only other person in the press box was me.

And when I attended their game back on March 17th, again it was the two play-by-play guys and then me. There was also another writer there but I was unsure as to what publication he was with. And it also doesn’t help that Head Coach Steve Martinson didn’t do pre-game interviews or post-game press conferences. I had to beg for the interview that I had with him back on March 17th.

If you put all of that together and combine it with the cost of game day operations, arena rental, player salaries, the salaries of other team employees, travel costs, and other team needs {uniforms, equipment, etc…} perhaps the Express didn’t do too well in the revenue department.

And of course the biggest reason of them all is, how can you compete with the Wolves and the Blackhawks? Both teams have multiple championships between them. The Blackhawks are one of the NHL’s Original Six, and the Wolves have been here for 18 years now. The Wolves weren’t given much of a chance to succeed. But they became successful by winning championships during the 90’s when the Blackhawks struggled.

Cheap ticket prices and their “family friendly” game experience also paid dividends for them as well. Again this is all just pure speculation on my part. But when Express Media Relations Director Bob Mills said earlier today that “The organization would make no further comment on its disbanding.” All we can do is assume and guess.

Express Owner Craig Drecktrah also released a statement as well:

 “The Chicago Express have announced today that they are withdrawing from the ECHL, effectively ending the Chicago Express organization immediately. Although the Chicago Express are ceasing operations, on behalf of the staff and players, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the support we received from the Village of Hoffman Estates, Global Spectrum, our business and community partners, our corporate sponsors, and especially, our fans. I would also like to thank our ECHL partners, and wish good luck to those teams participating in the 2012 Kelly Cup Playoffs.”

The team also says that they will be refunding money to people who bought advance playoff tickets. They also advise that fans have until June 1st to redeem their vouchers for Chicago Express youth hockey jerseys. They can redeem those vouchers at the Sears Centre box office. The Express finished the 2011-2012 season with a record of 34-26-8-4 for 80 points.

Now that the Sears Centre has lost a major tenant, how will this impact the arena economically? Will the ECHL try to bring another team to Chicago? And if so will they put them in the Sears Centre? Will the Central Hockey League try to expand into the Chicago market? Only time will tell. But I can say this, unless something happens soon the Sears Centre will be very lonely come this fall.

You can follow me on Twitter: @GabeSalgado82 Hashtag: #Q101Sports

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Also on Sunday April 15th, I will be in the press box covering the Chicago Wolves at the Allstate Arena.

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