NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld makes stop in Janesville
JANESVILLE—Mark Frankenfeld has been the commissioner of the North American Hockey League for more than seven years.
On Friday, he stopped in town to see the league’s Janesville Jets, his first time in the Janesville Ice Arena in several years.
Frankenfeld said the league is in a great position, with the possibility of keeping all 24 current teams in the league onboard for the 2014-15 season.
The Gazette caught up with the commish between periods of the Jets’ 5-3 victory over Johnstown on Friday night.
Q: What is the state of the NAHL as it stands right now?
A: “The league is in a great position right now. A couple years ago we were in expansion mode, taking advantage of some opportunities in some markets to create long-term sustainability. We’re not in expansion mode right now. We’re (in a mode to) invest and create value and build a brand in the markets. We’re on the doorstep of having all 24 of the same 24 teams come back for a consecutive year, which would be the first time I can remember. I’ve been the commissioner for 7.5 years and worked as the director of hockey operations prior to that, so it’s the first time in a long time, for sure.
Q: What has been the biggest key to maintaining consistency in the league membership?
A: “The owners have been aggressive and agile and have taken advantage of opportunities in former professional markets where the market couldn’t sustain the pro model, with the insurances and the salaries. We’ve gotten some better markets. The NAHL financial model is a risk, but it’s a lesser risk than having to pay salaries and insurance. The mission of providing opportunities for the boys to go on and pursue their dreams and play hockey has really been the whole genesis of it. … We’re in better markets with better owners.”
Q: How big of a deal will it be if you can keep all 24 teams the same heading into the 2014-15 season?
A: “Huge. A long time ago, I realized that our whole is created by parts and transition. We started collecting parts which didn’t really fit. Part of that was collecting good former pro markets. Now we have stabilized, so it’ll increase the level of the brand and it’s going to help us attract better players. Our owners will be taking less of a financial risk because the model is more sustainable, and it’s going to equal a better product for the fans.”
Q: We’ve seen success in Janesville of players signing to play Division I hockey. Have you seen that across the league, as well?
A: “Yeah, the brand of the league, nationally, just continues to pick up momentum. We had a really good year last year of sending guys on, and we’re going to be close to that this year. The number of Division I scholarships hasn’t changed, but the number of junior teams and players has. … Our numbers have been second only to the USHL.”
Q: What have you seen on your trip to Janesville and how does the market here stack up to those around the league?
A: “We have a ton of different markets, so there is a wide variety. But the key is what goes on inside the glass. What goes on outside of it—what the community can provide, what size the building is—that whole initiative is great, but what goes on inside the glass is what’s really important. To that point, we’re about the players. One thing we do better than any other league in the country is players get a chance to move on.”
Q: How much of a role do you play in communicating with teams as they work to build their brand and sustain their franchises?
A: “We have a great staff, and the owners have allowed us to be pretty aggressive in hiring the right people. … All of our leagues, the NAHL, the NA3HL, the NACHL, we have 78 teams under our umbrella, 1,800 players in 14 different states. … Our challenge is between enabling the teams and providing support and information. You teach a man to fish, he eats for his whole life, but if you feed a man a fish, he eats for one day. We want everyone to be able to eat for the rest of their life and figure it out. We’ve got some great owners and great coaches and staff that have really bought in and support that.”
Q: How do you feel about the state of the Janesville Jets?
A: “Nothing is more important than what’s going on on the ice. And right now, since the trade deadline, the Jets are hot. Bill McCoshen and the partners took a risk here. They got buy-in from the city on improvements. I remember coming here before and I’d have to walk across the benches to go do an interview, and now we’ve got all this wonderful space. It’s a great junior rink in Janesville, Wis., with a great community-based initiative. There’s about 700 people here (on Friday night), and that’s not bad. They’re all here cheering their team on, and that’s what it’s all about. … Just watching the Jets, you’ve got a good-looking team. There’s energy, there’s offense and they’re playing with confidence. That’s something to be proud of. As playoffs go and they get some buzz with that, more fans will have a chance to get down here and see them.”