Lamar Hunt Jr. had not been to a Missouri Mavericks hockey game until this season. But it didn’t take long for him to get the hockey bug.
Hunt quickly became a Mavericks fan, and on Friday he will be introduced as the new owner of the Mavericks, a minor-league club in the East Coast Hockey League that plays its games at the Independence Events Center.
“There was a little bit of an element of love at first sight, because when you walk into the building, you see the brand and talk to the people, and see how well it’s run,” Hunt said Thursday night after the purchase of the club was completed.
“Minor-league hockey is a little bit different than the NHL because there’s a lot going on during the game. With the two intermissions, there is a lot of fun stuff. It’s a total entertainment package. The branding, the sponsorships, the season tickets, the merchandising … they’ve done very, very well.”
Hunt’s ownership of the Mavericks is not part of Hunt Sports Group, the Dallas-based company run by his brother Clark, chairman of the Chiefs. Lamar Hunt Jr., who lives in Leawood, is president of Kansas City-based Loretto Sports Ventures, LLC — a company that invests in sports teams, properties and affiliated assets.
Hunt’s late father, Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League and the Chiefs, was one of America’s great sportsmen, with interests in Major League Soccer, World Championship Tennis and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.
Could Lamar Hunt Jr. be the eventual answer to Kansas City’s search for an owner of an NHL team to play at the Sprint Center? Not yet.
“That’s a natural question for people to ask,” Hunt said, “but honestly I can’t say today that Kansas City would be a strong NHL market. What we have to do is grow the youth program and get more sheets of ice in the community. You need more skaters when they’re young.
“Kansas City has great sports fans, they attend things so well. Let’s see what happens. Right now we’ve got the Missouri Mavericks in the ECHL and let’s make it great for the whole community. Independence and that whole area has done a great job.”
However, Hunt is interested in the Mavericks’ affiliating as a top farm club for an NHL team. The Mavericks currently have an affiliation with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, who are the top farm club of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.
“That’s a fine affiliation,” Hunt said of the Mavericks’ connection to the Wolves, “but the NHL brings a lot of scouting and professionalism and player development.”
Paul McGannon, president of NHL21, the grass-roots organization dedicated to bringing the NHL to Kansas City, said he was “thrilled” to hear about Hunt’s involvement.
“It’s great that a person of this amount of influence is getting involved in the sport of hockey in Kansas City,” McGannon said. “We’ve tried to put all the pieces together, meaning Kansas City has the demographics, Kansas City has the state of the art arena in Sprint Center. The missing link has been an ownership group with the wherewithal to (own) an NHL team. So to have a person of this influence obviously is well-connected. We’ll see where it goes.
“The good news is this is a huge upgrade for hockey in Kansas City.”
The Mavericks joined the ECHL this season after the demise of the Central Hockey League. The Mavericks, who began play in 2009, and six other former CHL members formed the ECHL’s Central Division.
The Mavericks have consistently ranked at the top of their league in attendance. The club is averaging 5,176 in the 5,800-seat Independence Events Center, ranking sixth of 28 teams in the ECHL.
“We took a look at the model at what they were doing,” Hunt said, “and the thing that helped us (decide) was when they made it to the ECHL. That was a good move on the organization’s part.”