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Pleasant surprise: Wells Fargo Arena turns profit after loss of AHL

Iowa ChopsThough studies indicated Des Moines’ Wells Farge Arena would require subsidies even with the presence of professional hockey, the facility turned a profit after the loss of the Iowa Chops (AHL) — leading many in the community to question whether hockey is a necessary part of the mix.

The impending launch of the 2011-2012 AHL season is causing the perennial debate in Des Moines: Does the city need hockey? Let’s face it: the Iowa Stars and Iowa Chops, the two AHL teams taking up occupancy in downtown’s Wells Fargo Arena, set the world on fire. Des Moines is a surprisingly crowded sports market, with a successful Triple-A baseball team (the Iowa Cubs), a successful D-League team (the Iowa Energy) and a decent AFL team (the Iowa Barnstormers). So adding an AHL team to the mix with relatively high ticket prices may not be the best of ideas.

Thing is: there is a very viable hockey product in the Des Moines market in the form of the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, which regularly draws good crowds to Buccaneer Arena. The Bucs are fairly impervious to competition: the team owns its own arena, puts out a good product at a very low cost, and has attracted families and groups to games because of low prices.

AHL officials say they’re willing to look at a return to Des Moines. But given the market dynamics and track record, any operator looking to return to Wells Fargo Arena faces a ton of challenges.

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