The long wait for Houston Aeros fans is over as the AHL released the league's schedule on Wednesday afternoon. The Aeros season will open on the road on October when they play the first regular season game in the history of the expansion Oklahoma City Barons. And their first home game will be the next Saturday, October 16, when the Aeros play host to the Peoria Rivermen.
The schedule is not exactly a friendly one for the Aeros. They're only playing 39 of their 40 home games at Toyota Center with another scheduled to be played on the home ice of the team's NHL affiliate Minnesota Wild.
They're also severely disadvantaged by the fact they'll be playing 13 three-in-three's -- that's three games in three nights. No other team in their division is stuck with such an onerous schedule, with Oklahoma City and San Antonio being tied with 10 three-in-threes.
And November and December will be real bitches for the Aeros as, in each month, they'll be going on a five-game road trip. The November trip starts in Oklahoma City, then sees the team jet to Canada where they'll play Abbotsford twice before returning to the States to play Peoria twice. The December trip sends the Aeros to Cleveland, across the border to Hamilton, back across to the border for a game in Grand Rapids, then back into Canada for two games in Winnipeg against Manitoba.
But while the schedule will be a tough one for the Aeros, it will be tougher for the fans, especially those poor fools who brought season tickets before knowing the schedule because, even though they brought tickets for 40 games, only 39 home games will actually be played in Houston.
It's a good thing for the Aeros players to play in St. Paul, especially since they'll be taking part in a thing known as Hockey Day Minnesota. This is a big day for hockey in that area, and the team gets to play on the Wild's ice before the Wild themselves play a game later that night. But while it's good for the players, the fans are screwed.
Aeros/Wild management has stated that all those holding Aeros season tickets will receive a ticket to the game against Peoria, which is to be played in St. Paul. While that's a nice gesture, what isn't so nice is that the Wild aren't covering airfare or hotel costs, and the Wild also aren't providing the fans with tickets to the Wild game to be played that night. And those associated travel costs are far more than the cost of that game ticket, and may actually rival the cost of a season ticket. So while the offer's nice, it just doesn't get the job done.
The Aeros are offering another alternative. The fans can instead exchange the ticket for that game to be played in St. Paul for a ticket to another game. This is just as screwy because the fan is still paying to see 40 games, but only getting to see 39, though they'll have an extra ticket for one of those games.
Maybe, instead, the Aeros should actually contemplate doing something that would help offset the costs the fan is stuck with for a game he/she can't attend. Maybe they could give them food vouchers, or refund the money, or maybe use the ill-begotten gains to get some in-game entertainment that doesn't involve grade-school choirs.
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But that's not the only way fans, especially season ticket holders, are being shafted. Every year, the Aeros play a weekday matinee game. This is one of those games where school kids are rewarded for good grades and attendance by getting to watch the Aeros play. Of course, most of the season ticket holders are unable to attend this game because they have this thing called a job, but one game, for the kids, is usually okay. This year, however, the Aeros are having two such games, and those matinee games, coupled with the home game to be played in St. Paul, mean that, thought the season ticket holders are paying for 40 games, the odds are they'll be seeing 37. But as long as the team has the fans' money, nothing else really matters, does it?
I don't really have much about which to complain. I don't pay to see the games. So it's not like I'm out anything by a home game not actually being played in Houston. But as someone who has gotten to know many of the fans just as I've gotten to know many of the players, I can understand why they would be upset.
The Aeros might be a minor league team. And sometimes the players don't stick around for a long time, but these fans become invested in the team, and the players. Not just financially invested, but emotionally invested. They're paying for tickets because they want to watch hockey, and they want to watch the players they've gotten to know. So ripping these games from them just feels dirty. It's not so much the money, really, it's more like the team is breaking a trust.
But so what? It's only minor league hockey. Right?