The last shift of the Alaska Aces pro hockey club finished with Thursday's announcement that the owners have sold the franchise to Comcast Spectacor, parent company of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, for an undisclosed amount.
The Aces folded in April after 15 seasons, the final 14 of them in the ECHL, due to mounting financial losses triggered by declining attendance and dwindling sponsorship that slashed revenues. In February, when the Aces announced they would fold, owners cited $1 million in losses in 2016 and continued losses in 2017.
Comcast and the ECHL announced Comcast will begin an as-yet-unnamed ECHL franchise in Portland, Maine, in the 2018-19 season. The ECHL Board of Governors approved transfer of ownership and location for the franchise.
Aces co-owner Jerry Mackie said the sale of the club, owned by five Anchorage businessmen, brings a forlorn finality to a difficult decision.
"We did this for 15 years, put our hearts and souls into it, and will be forever appreciate to our fans, to our sponsors and to our community for making the Alaska Aces organization possible," Mackie said. "But, unfortunately, the clock has run out, circumstances changed."
The Aces were long one of the model franchises in the ECHL, a minor-league circuit two rungs down the North American hockey ladder from the NHL, the world's best league. They seized the Kelly Cup in 2006, 2011 and 2014, attracted large crowds to Sullivan Arena and proved the state's most celebrated team.
But Aces attendance plunged 24 percent in the franchise's last four seasons and the club's financial picture was clouded by a declining economy in a state enduring a budget crisis.
"If our ownership couldn't find a way to make it pay for itself and be viable, it's just not meant to be," Mackie said. "We did explore every option.
"This was not a problem with the city, or the arena, or the lease. It's just simple economics, the costs of having a hockey team in Alaska when the rest of the league is in the Lower 48. The challenges of that are significant financially. It's nobody's fault. It's just reality."
Mackie said the sale at an undisclosed price helped defray some financial losses but did not balance the books.
"It doesn't make much of a dent in the money we've put into the organization," Mackie said. "You get some of your money back, but it's not a lucrative transaction."