Being located in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area doesn’t equal success at the ticket office for a junior hockey team. Struggling to break even and to get fans in seats are one of the reasons why Peter Karmanos could move the Plymouth Whalers club to Chatham, Ontario according to multiple reports in the Detroit area.
The first real sign that the team could be on the move was the announcement three weeks ago that the USA Hockey National Team Development Program is moving to Compuware Arena, the current home of the Whalers. The 3,807 seat arena was built in 1996, when Karmanos moved the then Detroit Jr. Red Wings to Plymouth, Mich. and renamed them the Detroit Whalers. The Plymouth name came when they moved to Plymouth after splitting between other arenas for a two seasons in the mid-1990’s.
Since then, Karmano’s tone has changed from wanting to keep them in Plymouth to now shopping them across the Detroit River to Ontario. Currently Chatham is one of the largest Ontario cities without a major junior hockey club. And if there’s any roadblock to an immediate relocation is an arena large enough to support an OHL club. The Chatham Memorial Arena seats 2,412 but is described as outdated, rustic, and needs improvements according to Wikipedia.
Attendance has been a major problem for the Whalers in recent seasons. The club averaged 2,478 fans per game last season, 19th in the 20-team OHL. This season is no different as they have averaged 2,378 fans this season, third worst. Performance on the ice isn’t a problem as they have made the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons, an OHL record. During that stretch they have claimed only one OHL playoff title, in 2006-07.
Other problems could be the saturation of ticketed hockey in the area. Plymouth is situated halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor and anywhere in a 30-minute drive you have dozens of high school programs that are successful in addition to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, USHL’s US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan that is also located in Ann Arbor. While the Whalers tickets and concessions are relatively affordable, it is understandable for a hockey parent to want to take their child to Yost Ice Arena on a Friday night to watch Michigan play Wisconsin instead of taking in a Plymouth- Guelph game at Compuware Arena.