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The Abbotsford Heat was founded in 2009 and operated in the AHL for five seasons between 2009 and 2014. The franchise moved to Abbotsford, BC, from Moline, IL, after the Quad City Flames ceased operations in 2009.
In 2005 the City of Abbotsford had opted to build a new arena that later became known as the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre (AESC). Initially the City Council visioned an ECHL franchise as a tenant, but later on opted to pursue an AHL franchise instead. The AESC building project was part of a larger community development project. The estimated cost of the whole project first went up from the initial $75 million to $108 million and finally to $115 million, with the arena costing approximately nearly $70 million.
The City of Abbotsford was able to attract an AHL tenant in 2009, just before the AESC project was completed. The franchise relocation of the Quad City Flames to Abbotsford was was approved by the AHL Board of Governors on April 28, 2009. The franchise was owned by the Calgary Flames and operated by a local ownership group with a 10-year $5.7 million supply fee agreement with the City of Abbotsford in place, with additional $200,000 going to the city for the facility rental. Profits exceeding $5.9 million would be then split 60-40 between the owners and the city. In other words, the city guaranteed the owners, i.e. the Calgary Flames, $5.7 million budget to operate the team with possible shortfall in revenue being covered by the city. The 10-year agreement included a review of the agreement after five years. Due to the remote location of the franchise, the local ownership group would pay for the opponents' travel.
During its stay in Abbotsford the Flames AHL affiliate managed to reach the playoffs three times out of five, reaching the Western Conference. Despite the playoff runs and modest success during the regular seasons, the team was unable to draw people to the games at the AESC. Each year in operation the team failed to reach its estimated average attendance required to reach the point of breaking even at $5.7 million. While inaugural season deficit was attributed to a general lack of time to market the team and to sell commercial rights, the issue of low attendance remained and gradually became worse as the attendance dwindled. The issue was ever so apparent inside the AESC with majority of the seats empty.
On April 15, 2014, coinciding with the five year review mark, the City of Abbotsford decided to terminate the 10-year supply agreement with the Calgary Flames. The team had failed to reach the $5.7 million mark each year, costing the city approximately a total of $7.2 million. The termination of the agreement cost the city $5.5 million. Therefore, the Abbotsford Heat cost $12.7 million to the local taxpayers and the nearly $70 million arena was left dormant. The franchise was subsequently moved to Glens Falls, NY, and became known as the Adirondack Flames.
The reason for the low attendance was generally, at least in part, attributed to the team image as the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, a rival of the nearby Vancouver Canucks. The Heat played in uniforms based on the Calgary Flames uniforms, the gold trim being replaced was replaced by silver. The Fraser Valley area is considered Canucks territory and supporting a team affiliated to a rival was probably not an ideal situation to begin with. The city was reportedly engaged in talks with the Canucks to serve as the relocation place of the Peoria Rivermen, but the parties involved were unable to reach agreement in time before the 2013-14 season and the Rivermen franchise was relocated to Utica, NY.
On one hand, it is arguable that for the Calgary Flames having its AHL affiliate close by, operating in state of the art facilities and being compensated for operational losses through the supply fee agreement was a sweet deal, regardless of the attendance issue. The previous incarnation of the franchise in Moline, IL, operated only for two seasons due to high deficits, which likely led the Flames to look for financially more secure agreements, like the one they found in Abbotsford. On the other hand, the City of Abbotsford was fairly keen on building a large arena, chose to host the Flames' AHL affiliate and was ready to bear the costs involved. Perhaps the city was overly optimistic or too eager to quickly land a tenant to its expensive arena in the first place.
Behind the name
The team name was chosen in a contest. The rationale to choose the name Abbotsford Heat was not explained at the time, but it is arguable that name is a nod towards the Calgary Flames who owned the franchise. The team colors are also similar to the Flames colors.
- Adirondack Flames (2014-)
- Abbotsford Heat (2009-2014)
- Quad City Flames (2007-2009)
- Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (2005-2007)
- Saint John Flames (1993-2003)
- Utica Devils (1987-1993)
- Maine Mariners (1977-1987)
- Kinvig, Dan 2013. Canucks AHL affiliate not coming to Abbotsford, Heat staying put. Abbotsford News: April 26, 2013.