MACON, Ga. (AP) — Faced with the loss of ice-making ability at his team's former home arena in Augusta, Bob Kerzner began a search for a new place for his minor league hockey team to play.
Kerzner had not considered Macon initially. But two months ago, the Southern Professional Hockey League office put him in touch with Macon Centreplex officials looking to bring a team back to Macon.
Things moved quickly after that. The Macon-Bibb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a proposed lease last week, and Kerzner held a public lease-signing event Wednesday at the Macon Marriott City Center, introducing the Macon Mayhem to the city.
The first game will take place in October 2015, giving the team time to develop its operations.
"The process was simple," Kerzner said. "Basically, you need ice to play ice hockey. And Augusta's pipes rotted out. ... It was going to take $1.2 million to replace. We began looking at alternatives. We went to Greensboro (North Carolina); we called Tallahassee (Florida). There were a lot of different places that we were looking at. Then we found out that Macon had called.
"Right after that, I talked to the league president and asked if it was OK to talk with Macon if anyone was looking around. I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. He said, 'No, no, nobody's looking there.' That's how the whole thing started."
The Macon Coliseum lease for the Mayhem is for five years, beginning with the 2015-16 SPHL season. The team, known as the RiverHawks during its time in Augusta, will play a 56-game schedule, with 28 of those games to be played at the Coliseum.
The league's average attendance during the 2013-14 season was 3,000 fans per game. The league just finished its 10th season, and it will enter the 2014-15 season with eight teams, not counting the Mayhem.
"The ownership and everyone staying to the business model (has allowed the league to succeed)," said SPHL President Jim Combs, who added that further expansion is on the table for the 2015-16 season. "There's always opportunities to raise the operating costs on a per-team basis, and our group has been able to say, 'You know what, let's stay affordable, family fun. Let's make it to where people can come to enjoy it (affordably).' "
In baseball terms, the SPHL is roughly equal to the Single-A level. The affiliation structure in hockey is looser than in baseball, and teams in the SPHL do not directly affiliate with teams at other levels.
The Columbus Cottonmouths will be the Mayhem's closest opponents, and there is already talk of rekindling rivalries from previous eras of Macon hockey.
"You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and with the Macon franchise taking a whole year to prepare and do things right, it's going to be great," Cottonmouths head coach and General Manager Jerome Bechard said.
Kerzner, who is also the owner of two McDonald's franchises in South Carolina, said the average player salary in the SPHL is $325 per week. The team can carry three veterans, defined by those who have played more than 225 professional games.
The Mayhem have not opened offices in Macon yet, but Kerzner said that should happen within the next few weeks. He also said he expects to hire a head coach soon after the 2014-15 season concludes.
"We've been treated royally, and we've been treated first class," Kerzner said. "I told my wife that we'd be stupid not to go to Macon."
Kevin Price of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer contributed to this report.
Information from: The Macon Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com
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