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Hold your horses: CHL/IHL merger hitting obstacles

CHLIt probably was a scenario too good to be true: the merger between the CHL and the IHL is hitting several obstacles and could end up being scrapped by the end of the month.

The issues, predictably, revolve around money, beginning with a disagreement over the length of the season and ending with disputes over travel and league payments. The IHL plays a longer season than does the CHL — 72 games/36 home games for the IHL, 64 games/32 home games for the CHL — and both travel costs and league payments are lower for the IHL than the CHL. Cutting the number of games may not be a killer for the IHL (CHL scheduling is heavy on the weekend games; losing some games probably means losing some mid-week matches), but combine the loss of revenue with higher operating costs and you’ve got an issue. Plus, cutting games isn’t necessarily an option for some teams, whose leases specify the number of games in a season.

Plus, there’s also a big cultural issue here, with two heavyweights at play. On one side is Global Entertainment, which still owns several CHL teams and has a business model built on selling arenas to communities and then filling them with teams. On the other side is the IHL’s Michael Franke, the strong-willed Fort Wayne owner who has carried the IHL and its predecessors through some lean times via sheer force of will. Both sides are big fish in small ponds, and we’re not sure the combined CHL/IHL pond is big enough for both.

There’s talk that a merger will yield a new league that would be competitive with the ECHL in terms of NHL/AHL affiliations, but that’s a red herring: it’s not as though the New York Rangers will be sending a phenom to the CHL anytime soon. Really, the reason for a larger circuit is to expand the footprint of the league and create more potential expansion markets for Global Entertainment. That’s not a business goal shared by the IHL teams; hence the tension. We’re still not sure the IHL will exist as an independent league next season, but we’re not entirely sure the CHL/IHL merger will take place, either. The negotiations over the next three weeks should be fascinating, indeed.


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