It was probably inevitable, but the Cleveland Barons will once again be no more after this season.
The Plain Dealer reported today the AHL minor league hockey franchise will end speculation about its future and move to Worcester, Mass. for the 2006-07 season.
There were rumblings this time last year that the Barons would pull up stakes and move to the Quad Cities area of Iowa, but the franchise committed to Cleveland for one more season.
This is the last year of a five-year lease the Barons signed with Quicken Loans Arena upon moving to Cleveland from Kentucky in 2001.
This will be the fifth failed hockey franchise in Cleveland's history, to go along with the Lumberjacks, Crusaders, and two prior incarnations of the Barons, one in the AHL and one in the NHL.
Anyone who has been to a Barons game could easily see how the team could fail in Cleveland. While The Q is brimming with activity and near-sellouts for the Cavaliers, the arena is all but dead for a Barons game, with sparse crowds and very little to keep fans interested during breaks in the action. The result? Barons management elected to curtain off the upper bowl of the arena because they can't adequately fill the lower bowl.
While the Lumberjacks spiced up their minor-league games with zany promotions and giveaways, the most exciting Barons promotion is the chuck-a-puck after each game, during which fans are invited to throw foam rubber pucks onto the ice, aiming for targets that correspond to various prizes.
The results are predictable: the Lumberjacks could draw 15,000 to a Saturday night game. A five-figure Barons crowd is almost unheard of.
With a failing economy slowly bleeding money and jobs from the area, minor-league sports are dying in Cleveland.
The Lumberjacks folded in 2000, along with the Internatioanl Hockey League, due to lack of money and poor management.
The WNBA's Rockers (Yes, they were minor-league in terms of scale of operations. Sorry if that offends anyone.) were the next to go, folded by former Cavs owner Gordon Gund in 2003 because he was losing money on the team.
The Force, a former staple of winter sports in Cleveland back in indoor soccer's 1980s heyday, folded after last season, also due to massive financial losses.
The Lake County Captains, an Indians farm team, have tried to carve their own niche in Cleveland's far eastern suburbs. They are under the Indians' umbrella, so they should be on pretty solid ground for a while, even though their Eastlake stadium reportedly had huge finaicial overruns and is becoming a money pit for the city.
An anonymous AHL source told The Plain Dealer that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert might be in the market for another AHL team. Losing the Barons means losing 40 home dates at The Q each year, and the supplemental revenue provided by ticket and concession sales.
At least three AHL franchises are reportedly up for sale.
However, if a new minor-league hockey team is simply going to be a Barons clone with snoozer games that could very easily have been played at the local rec center, I don't see the point. That franchise, like the Crusaders, Lumberjacks, and each version of the Barons, will be doomed to fail.