It’s been almost two weeks since the ECHL’s season started and we're still about seven weeks from when the Komets’ season could potentially begin.
Since the Komets announced Dec. 7 that they were targeting a February start, there have been developments positive and negative that affect the possibility of them playing a 69th consecutive season.
Perhaps the best news, aside from the potential that a COVID-19 vaccine will be readily available, is that, according to multiple sources, the Komets and Memorial Coliseum have been tentatively approved by the Allen County Department of Health to have approximately 2,620 fans.
That number is still down from the Komets’ league-leading attendance average last season of 8,090, the 4,500 fans the team has stated it would need to break even financially, and the 3,830 fans the Department of Health approved in October. But stricter limits were put on public gatherings earlier this month and it looked as if only hundreds might be allowed.
Of course, the state of the pandemic could alter the capacity number further before February, when the Komets could begin a season of about 50 games.
“A little under 2,700 (fans), we think that’s great,” Komets president Michael Franke said Wednesday. “We can deal with that. But obviously, we’re going to lose a lot of money even at 2,700.”
Komets ownership doesn’t have as much money as many ECHL owners, and its staff has been furloughed for months, so there are many factors that must be weighed, including safety and whether a lost season would undermine the long-term health of the franchise. In short, the Franke family is willing to lose money to play, but it’s a question of how much it’s willing to lose.
“(Capacity) is another piece of the puzzle we’ve been working on,” Franke said.
Another significant piece is totally out of the Komets’ control, though, and that’s what happens with the Toledo Walleye, the only other ECHL team still undecided on whether it will skate this season. The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers have been approved to have only 300 fans for early season games and if that number holds for the nearby Walleye in February, it would likely take Toledo out of the ECHL mix and could have dire implications for the Komets.
One of the biggest issues facing the Komets is the cost and rigors of travel during a pandemic and they sorely need Toledo on the schedule, since Kalamazoo and Cincinnati are among the 11 teams that have opted out. Without the Walleye, Indy and Wheeling would be the only teams within 300 miles – Kansas City would be the next closest at 597 miles – and that may make playing more problematic for Fort Wayne since it’s trying to avoid hotel stays to limit exposure to COVID-19.
“(We hope) we get Toledo to play, so that we can play Toledo, Indy and Wheeling a lot, and cut down on our travel as far as exposure to the COVID,” Franke said. “And potentially if we get a vaccine for our players at some point in time, after all the people that need to get it first obviously, because we would never even think of trying to (cut) in line, then it would be yes (we could play) with the hope that maybe come April it’ll be 3,800 to 4,000 fans, who knows? But sadly, I don’t know much more than I knew a few weeks ago because it keeps changing.”
Among other things being tracked by the Komets are: the number COVID-19 cases with the 13 ECHL teams already playing; whether Indiana continues to be a pandemic hot spot; how much money the organization gets, and when, through government stimulus to offset lost revenue; and how things are being handled by the higher-level NHL and American Hockey League.
The earliest the Komets could play without the ECHL having to rewrite its schedule would be Feb. 12 and the Komets hope to know in early January if that’s happening. They will not offer season tickets this season, but season-ticket holders who still have money with the team will be first in line for single-game tickets at a discount.