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 Will Birmingham join the World Hockey Association?

 
  

April 2003

  
         
    Dr. Nick Vaccaro and Allan Howell announce they will be creating a new professional hockey league to rival the National Hockey League. The new league would be called the World Hockey Association, after the league that played in the 1970's. Birmingham was named, along with twenty-eight other cities, as potential sites for franchises. 

Vaccaro and Howell are heavily involved with the Anaheim Roadrunners of the American Basketball Association and claim to have been working on this idea since 2000. "There is no doubt in my mind that now is the time to aggressively move forward in every way and take complete advantage of this wonderful opportunity. The timing could not be better. The preliminary responses we have solicited could not be more encouraging. Yes, now is the time," Dr. Vaccaro said. 

However, many feel that the hockey's narrow main-stream appeal can't support another major hockey league. Very few of the minor league hockey teams are making money and the current economy isn't showing signs of growth. All of these factors could play a major role in the success of the new league. 

Birmingham had a franchise in the old WHA, when John Bassett moved his Toronto Torros here in 1976 and renamed them the Birmingham Bulls. In March of 1979, the NHL agreed to take in four of the WHA's more successful teams and the WHA ceased operations. 

A minor league farm system is also planned, the WHA2, which will be a training ground for players, coaches, office staff and officials.

  
         
  

May 2003

  
         
    WHA2 officials state that Birmingham has been awarded a franchise in the proposed league.

The WHA2 will begin play in October of 2003 while the WHA will wait until October of 2004 to get started. However, rumors are the WHA teams will compete in the WHA2 for the first year to better prepare themselves for the WHA the following year. If that method proves successful, future teams that join the league could face the same one-year WHA2 membership before being allowed to join the WHA.

  
         
  

June 2003

  
         
    A group led by David Waronker announced it is discussing placing a WHA franchise in the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex arena for the 2004-05 season. Waronker owns the Miami Manatees, Jacksonville Barracudas, Orlando Seals and the Macon Trax of the WHA2, and is also trying to field a WHA team for Miami (FL).

Waronker and his wife Ruth met with BJCC officials this week to discuss Birmingham as an entry in the proposed twelve team league. The WHA's goal is to start off being below the NHL's caliber of play but above all the other minor leagues. "Although downtown Birmingham will be without a hockey team for this season, we are hoping to provide a major pro team in the WHA for the 2004-05 season," Waronker said.

Frank Poe, the BJCC's executive director, said he was pleased with the meeting. "We're exploring (the possibility) right now. There was no offer or rental discussed, it was just a good introductory meeting. We talked about the ups and downs of the WHA, and we expressed to him some of the concerns from a building standpoint in the WHA and the costs associated with it," Poe said.

The Atlantic Coast Hockey League had been in negotiations with the BJCC for an expansion team to play there this season but potential local ownership fell through, opening the door for Waronker's group.

The WHA team would be closely connected to the WHA2 team that will be playing at the Pelham Civic Center. Taylor Hall, the team's majority owner, said the close ties could offer many possibilities. "With our situation, it's great. We'll eventually be affiliated with someone and there's no better position to be in than to be affiliated with a team that close. That means a lot of movement of players. That's a good thing for us. It'll be wonderful if a player or two of ours excelled and played in the WHA with (former) NHL stars. That's the ultimate goal of every minor-league team," Hall said.

  
         
  

July 2003

  
         
   

The World Hockey Association confirms they will begin play in 2004 with six cities already committed and two more are a possibility. Birmingham was not one of the cities named.

The six cities with arena leases or commitments now in place are Halifax, Quebec (both Canada) and Detroit, Dallas, Orlando  and Jacksonville. Toronto and Hamilton (both Canada) remain franchises in good standing pending the completion of lease negotiations

The WHA anticipates a minimum of ten franchises with a maximum of twelve confirmed before the first player draft on July 10, 2004.

  
         
  

Epilogue

  
         
      Although hopes were high, and the timing right - a National Hockey League player strike was occurring - the new World Hockey Association never played a single game.   
         
 
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Last Update: January 21, 2007