Biloxi still vying for SPHL franchise in time for 2015-16 season - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi still vying for SPHL franchise in time for 2015-16 season

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

For the first time since the 2006-07 season, no hockey team called Biloxi home.

South Mississippi Hockey President and General Manager Andy Makal is trying to change that. After Surge team officials announced in May 2014 that they'd be suspending operations, Makal immediately began the process of trying to have players lace up their skates for 28 home games in the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

Because of the limited timeframe he had before the start of the 2014-15 season, Makal was forced to shift his focus to bringing a team back the following season. 

While it's more likely than unlikely that the SPHL will return to Biloxi in the next few months, some fans have displayed questions on whether or not it an SPHL franchise can be successful even if the league does approve of another franchise.

"You have to understand that hockey didn't fail here," Makal said. "The first time, [Hurricane] Katrina had a big play in two seasons being lost. Because of those two off seasons, we had a budget that couldn't be sustained on an ECHL level, so the team moved to the SPHL. That's not a failure, that's just a smart business decision."

The Mississippi Sea Wolves won the ECHL's Kelly Cup during the 1998-99 season and cracked the playoffs seven other times before going inactive for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons due to Hurricane Katrina. 

The team returned for the 2007-08 campaign, but a $3 million budget in the ECHL resulted in the Sea Wolves being active for only two more years.

Once the SPHL was an option, the Surge joined the professional hockey ranks for five seasons before folding last May. 

However, one of the reasons the Surge franchise didn't last was because of a poorly executed marketing campaign and burdensome ticket prices. Makal plans to have more local businesses involved with the team in order to keep the fan interest at the highest level possible while keeping ticket costs low.

Makal also believes that a Biloxi hockey franchise under the SPHL business model can be sustained for a long period of time. He reiterated that fan interest clearly exists, which is evident by the turnout regarding the "Learn to Skate, Learn to Play" program. It brought more than 10,000 people to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in a six-week period.

"I envision it like where Texas was in the early 1990s, Nashville in the late '90s and where Orlando is today," Makal said. "Build the fanbase organically, allowing kids to get a stick in their hand and try out the game."

Makal is confident that South Mississippi Hockey will secure ownership before the SPHL-issued deadline of April 15th. 

The future team's name and logo are still undecided, but the colors will be considered patriotic in tribute to the Mississippi gulf coast's large military presence.

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