Keith Jeffries of Huntsville Sports Ventures has been the owner of the Havoc, a member of the Southern Professional Hockey League, for all six years – the longest stint of the city’s four previous franchises.
Admittedly, he didn’t know that much about the sport before he became an owner, but he did love watching the game.
After selling his business several years ago, it was a search “for that second career” that led Jeffries to the front office of the minor league team.
Decorating the walls of the team’s main office are framed jerseys from past years.
His office, off to the side of the main office, is modestly decorated with bookshelves, pictures, a couple of hockey masks, pucks and a family picture prominently displayed.
Last week, Jeffries talked about the team and the sport with Times business editor Budd McLaughlin.
The conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: What is Huntsville Sports Ventures Inc.?
A: It’s the parent company of the Havoc and I’m the only stockholder. We called it Huntsville Sports Ventures instead of the Havoc because we may go into other promotions in sports entertainment. We owned the (Tennessee Valley) Vipers (arena football team) for a couple of years and were involved in the Arenacross (motocross) at the VBC and were a small backer of the Big Spring Jam one year.
Q: Is there a relationship between the Havoc and the Vipers?
A: No. We’re tenants in the same building. That’s all. We get along extremely well, but there’s no business relationship.
Q: What is your relationship with the Von Braun Center administration?
A: I own the Havoc; they own the building. We co-promote the hockey games and share revenue and expenses. We’ve done it all six years. It’s a great way to do it.
Q: Why did you become an owner?
A: (Then-VBC Executive Director) Ron Evans wanted to get hockey back in here (the Tornado folded after its only season, 2000-01) and asked Donn Jennings if he knew anyone who was interested. He mentioned my name because I had inquired before about the Channel Cats but the timing wasn’t right, at that time. When I talked to Ron about it, it felt right.
Q: You are involved when other teams want to join the SPHL and you helped run another team a few years ago. What is your position with the SPHL?
A: My official position is treasurer, but for the first three years I was chairman of the board. I’ve always been able to be active for the league because of the staff here. (President) Kevin (Walker) and (vice president of business operations) Ashley (Balch) actually run the place, its day-to-day operations. Because I have the time, the commissioner would ask me to help out. In the first year (2004), the owner of Winston-Salem (Polar Twins) also owned Asheville (Aces), Macon (Trax) and Jacksonville (Barracudas). We didn’t think one person should have that many teams, so the league ran Winston-Salem. We were led to believe someone was ready to run it and I was listed as the owner, but Fayetteville, Columbus and Knoxville were in there with me.
Q: At the recent league meetings an ownership group met with the board, and the SPHL has two new teams this season (Louisiana and Mississippi). Has the recent (SPHL) expansion affected the team?
A: Long term, it will have a positive effect. But because with seven teams now, we’re not able to maximize our Friday and Saturday night games as much. Our biggest rival, Columbus, plays here on a Saturday (March 27) just once (the Cottonmouths have played at the VBC on a Friday and a Thursday and will also visit on a Tuesday – Feb. 16), and that’s the last game of the year. Our attendance was down – prior to Dec. 28 – but is up over last year, since then. It’s because of our success and a return to Huntsville-style, in-your-face hockey.
Q: What was the best moment – on- and off-ice – you’ve had as an owner?
A: Really, just enjoying the game and the excitement of the home crowd. But it was the second year of the Melissa George (Neonatal Memorial Fund) fundraiser in 2008 that really got me. The people spent $65,000 (in the auction of player jerseys and donations). They opened up their hearts and wallets. This year, with our economy, it was over $38,000. It was exciting and humbling.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who would like to be an owner.
A: No matter how much money you have, treat it like a business – not a hobby. You may say you can afford to lose $200,000 or something, but eventually you won’t want to lose money anymore. The best chance for long-term stability is to run it like a business.
The Huntsville Havoc are in their sixth year of operation and are the fifth minor league hockey team in the city’s history, since the Huntsville Blast laced up the skates in 1993.
6 years in Huntsville, Alabama.
6 years in Huntsville, Alabama, successfully.
The population of Huntsville, Alabama in July 2008: 176,645.
That has to be one helluva dedicated fanbase right there!
The Phoenix RoadRunners died in 4 years, and they were a part of a much bigger league – the ECHL.
The Phoenix Coyotes have been in place for 14 years and have never turned a profit, and they belong to the almighty NHL.
No, really. They literally belong to the NHL.
Winnepeg Jets Phoenix Coyotes were scooped up by the league when they flopped for their 14th stright year in the profits column.
Why, you might ask?
I dunno. I’ve been trying to figure this out my damn self.
Glendale, Arizona – Population in July 2008: 251,522.
Phoenix, Arizona – Population in July 2008: 1,567,924
There is a pretty substantial difference of people between the Alabama hockey market and the Phoenix market, yet the Coyotes give away tickets, with all the trimmings, (free parking, free transportation, free food, buy 1 get 1 free deals) they are kicking ass this season, yet they still can’t pack the house.
Why are they still in the desert, sucking on the teets of the NHL?
How are they entitled to any profit sharing when the NHL is paying their bills?
Why don’t we, the fans, have a say so in this?
It is our money afterall that is being spent on this failed experiement.
Our ticket prices went up.
Our parking fees went up.
Our beer and food prices are utterly ridiculous, yet these lazy, ungrateful sand creatures are handed the world but they refuse to embrace it.
Mr. Bettman, we have had enough!
Get them out of the desert and remove yourself from office!
By the way. I here that Toronto is looking for a team…