Fans worry as fate of Stockton Heat up in the air

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STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) -- Hockey fans in Stockton are growing increasingly restless that their team, the Stockton Heat, may pack up and leave town.

Currently, the team has one more year remaining on its lease with the city of Stockton. But the city's economic developer has suggested recently that Stockton would be better off financially without the team – and that has fans up in arms.

The Stockton Heat average a little more than 3,000 spectators per game, the lowest in the entire league.

“I mean, we're trying to remain optimistic but people are kind of having the outlook that the writing is on the wall and we're all in fear the outcome is going to be the departure of this team,” said season ticket holder Max Williamson.

The team and the city recently agreed to a one-year extension through the 2021 season. The understanding at the time was both sides would like a long-term deal.

Back in October, Heat CEO Brian Petrovek was quoted by the Stockton Record as saying, “Our primary objective is to work with the city to figure this thing out. That's our preference.”

However, that is in strong contrast to what Stockton Economic Developer Carrie Wright told the city council last week when asked about a $400,000 entertainment deficit at the Stockton Arena.

“I am currently negotiating with the team right now, so a cost-benefit analysis is in progress,” Wright told FOX40. “My understanding is if the team was to not renew with us, there would be cost savings. But to the degree, I can't tell you.”

Both the city of Stockton and the Heat organization declined FOX40’s request for comment on the topic.

But fans had a strong reaction to it all.

“That might be part of the issue, that the city feels the fan support isn't what it used to be,” Williamson said. “But I also think the environment inside the building that the city runs could affect a negative experience for casual fans and not get them to want to return.”

“I've seen a drastic reduction in the efforts made to continue to draw people in, to encourage people to spend their money at the arena. Whether it be food, parking, all of that,” said Heat fan Christie Steiner. “And that's all money that goes to the city, I believe. That's not money that goes to the team.”

The arena is run by a third party, ASM Global, that contracts with the city.

While it's unclear how much the upgrades would cost, fans of the Stockton Heat know whatever it is, it's better than the alternative.

“They spent nearly $70 million on this building 15 years ago and for it to sit empty and rot away seems more like a waste than a gain in the long run,” Williamson told FOX40.

The Stockton Arena is also home to the Stockton Kings of the NBA’s G League.

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