Comcast Spectacor buys another hockey team; ex-Flyer Danny Briere to run show

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Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of the Flyers and Spectra, is adding another hockey team to its portfolio.

The company announced Thursday that it has purchased the ECHL’s Alaska Aces franchise and will relocate the team to the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine. The yet-to-be-named team will begin play in the 2018-19 season. 

The Flyers organization will run the franchise’s business operations. Paul Holmgren, the Flyers’ president, will serve as the team’s governor, and former Flyers center Danny Briere will oversee the day-to-day operations.

“We are excited to reignite the hockey tradition in Portland,” Holmgren said in a statement. “The Flyers organization has a strong commitment to winning and developing future stars, and we intend to bring that same culture to this franchise.”

Comcast Spectacor will seek an NHL affiliation for the team, but it is not expected to include prospects whose NHL rights are held by the Flyers.  The Flyers have an active ECHL affiliation with the Reading Royals that is unaffected by this transaction.

The team’s roster will mirror those of many other ECHL teams in that most players will be under contract to the team itself, and will be recruited and signed by the team’s own hockey operations staff. The Cross Insurance Arena includes state-of-the-art locker rooms and training facilities, thanks to an 18-month, $33 million renovation that was completed in 2014.

In February, the Aces — Alaska’s only professional sports team and a three-time winner of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup — said they would fold. The club cited mounting financial losses triggered by plunging attendance, dwindling corporate sponsorships, and Alaska’s recession-wracked economy, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

Spectra, which offers a network of integrated services to hundreds of public assembly facilities, will manage the arena and provide food services and corporate partnerships.

Comcast Spectacor is part of Portland’s rich hockey history. In 1977, the company purchased an AHL expansion franchise to play at the then-new Cumberland County Civic Center. The Maine Mariners were a Flyers affiliate until 1983 and played in Portland through 1992, when they were replaced by the Portland Pirates. The Mariners won the Calder Cup in each of their first two seasons, and added a third in 1983-84.

With the acquisition of the Portland franchise, Comcast Spectacor continues to invest in minor-league hockey.  For the past four seasons, the Flyers have run the business operations for the Hartford Wolf Pack, an American Hockey League franchise owned by and affiliated with the New York Rangers. Spectra also manages the PPL Center, home of the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Comcast Spectacor will soon start the process of hiring a staff, establishing a team website, and conducting initial steps toward naming the team.

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