RINE: Nailers Lease Ongoing Project

WHEELING – At the announcement of the change of Wheeling Nailers ownership it was revealed that the team and WesBanco Arena, most notably Executive Director Denny Magruder, had at least agreed upon the nuts and bolts of a new lease with the understanding the two sides would continue working on a deal that is a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

A little less than two months later and the talks continue, and will likely go right up until the season starts in October, according to Nailers Vice President of Business Operations Craig Bommer.

”Actually RED and WAHA officially signed about three weeks ago to take over the team,” Bommer said last week. ”It’s still a work in progress. So far we’re happy with what we have and it’s a lot better than it was a year ago.

”Denny and his staff’s done a great job and has been working with us on new ideas. Tim (Roberts) and RED and Don Rigby and those guys have brought some new ideas that we just haven’t thought about in the past.

”From the outside they can see some things and they have people around town that can help them as well. Overall the lease is better and we’re getting closer every day to getting one that we can just sign and get it done with.”

One of the immediate changes at the arena fans will notice is the team shop, which will now be open nearly all the time. Fans will be able to purchase souvenirs, the jerseys of their favorite players and a number of other items.

”Our team shop is going to be permanent now,” Bommer said. ”It’s going to be up where the old ice cream shop was. So we’ll have more merchandise in there, it will be an official shop and it will be open during other events besides Nailers hockey.”

The question is, what types of events is that appropriate?

”Like Denny said, Elton John’s not going to want us selling hockey jerseys,” Bommer said. ”But there can be other events such as the West Virginia State Hockey Tournament (and) some other local events that we can be open for.”

Bommer said the two sides are discussing the possibility of adding some new concessions, though if that happened it would be down the road.

”Denny and his staff are working on it with us and it’s definitely a partnership,” he said. ”We’re pushing for some changes.

”People want to see variety, but it’s something we’re going to have to see if it makes sense money-wise.”

Front Office Stability

Just like having a favorite player on your team, fans can grow accustomed to working with a particular front office individual. For Nailers fans, there was little change in that department following the transfer of ownership. Everyone has returned with the exception of Kevin Schildt, who elected to move on with Rob and Jim Brooks to their AHL franchise.

That opened up the Director of Ticket Sales position that is now filled by Paul Melanko.

”It was scary for about a month – you just never know. I’ve seen teams get bought by people and all of a sudden they want their nephew running the team or their son running tickets,” Bommer said. ”I just told (the staff) to do what you do and it will pay off.

”As you saw by attendance the last half of the year, it kept going up to 211 standing-room-only tickets in the final game, which I don’t think has been done in about 15 years.

”We did what we did and the new owners took notice.”

Coach in the Community

Whenever the next coach of the Nailers takes over, he’ll do so with the understanding that being in the forefront of the community will be every bit as important as the product on the ice. That, Bommer said, is a directive that comes from Tim Roberts, president of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association and one half of the group that purchased the team.

”Yeah you’re the head coach, but you’re also going to be the leader in the community,” Bommer said. ”Whether that’s getting the players out there or yourself, that’s going to be a big role in the position.”

Interim coach Clark Donatelli ”did a good job – he was easy to talk to and he would talk to anybody for a half an hour,” Bommer continued. ”That’s going to help him in this process, I believe.”

Re-Alignment Again?

Well, that’s still to be determined. With teams from Fort Wayne and Evansville coming over from the CHL entering the league as well as brand-new teams in San Francisco and Orlando and the loss of Chicago, it would seem as though there might be more changes in the near future.

Bommer said he wasn’t sure but that he recently received a second copy of the 2012-2013 schedule from the ECHL office, with the understanding that a third copy will be the final one.

”From what I have seen, not drastically,” Bommer said about changes, though he elected not to elaborate. ”I think hockey is heading to the baseball model more and more every year. You’re going to see a clear AAA-AA in the next 5 years, to the point where you may see teams with only one affiliate.

”As much as we like having two, I think there’s going to be enough teams where you’re going to see one affiliate in the ECHL. It’s just heading that way and it’s something (Commissioner) Brian McKenna has talked about for the last several years, and you can just see it every year getting closer and closer.”

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net