Costly Ice System Problems Could Mean Augusta Riverhawks Hockey Team Flies Away

Posted on March 26, 2013 | in Defects, Hockey, Lean Tools, Maintenance, Sports, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) | by
A leaking pipe system beneath the James Brown Arena ice could do in the Augusta Riverhawks. (Michael Holohan)

A leaking pipe system beneath the James Brown Arena ice could do in the Augusta Riverhawks. (Michael Holohan)

The Augusta Riverhawks, an independent minor league hockey team in the Southern Professional Hockey League, were forced to vacate its final home games of the season because of a breakdown of the ice system at the James Brown Arena that couldn’t be repaired in time to finish out the remainder of the home slate.

The team moved their home games to a recreational ice rink in Augusta with significantly smaller seating capacity, so the team was forced to limit attendance at the new venue to only season ticket holders and sponsors on a first-come-first-admitted basis.

Even worse than that, arena staff have determined that a full replacement of the ice system is in order, which could cost the arena and the team in excess of $1M. That price could be too steep for the team and the city to handle, which could force the Riverhawks to fly the coop to another city with an ice hockey arena available.

From the article in the Augusta Chronicle:

(Riverhawks owner Bob) Kerzner said the team can’t sign a contract with the arena unless there is ice on the floor. He also can’t tell the Southern Professional Hockey League the team is returning until that happens. The current lease ends at the end of the season, and the team remains in negotiations with arena officials on a new lease.


The (temporary) ice center’s limited space means seats are only going to season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors. The RiverHawks continue to lose revenue on lost individual ticket sales, although an estimate of the losses has not been provided.

In addition to lost ticket revenue, it’s not clear how much of an impact this has on concessions or merchandise sales.

So what are the chances that this problem could have been avoided with optimized maintenance of a highly-critical piece of equipment? The ice system was installed in 1998 and was in use for fifteen seasons, although I’ve been told by a team representative that the system has a normal usage life of about twelve seasons.

As a result, the leaks could potentially have been easily detected with a total productive maintenance (TPM) that was thorough and effective, but it also could have simply been that the arena management took a risk in pushing the ice system beyond its expected useful life.

Total Productive Maintenance, or TPM, is a Lean tool that aims to keep equipment, machinery, and systems running at optimal or as-close-to-brand-new-as-possible condition through a thoroughly-evaluated and stringent cleaning, inspection, lubrication, and monitoring/tightening maintenance program in order to extend and improve the effective life of the equipment. An example of a more formalized TPM and productivity management program comes in the form of autonomous management. TPM programs typically incorporate maintenance checklists, cleaning and inspection standards, visual indicators of wear or falling out of standard conditions (such as a photo eye or measuring device being knocked out of alignment), and lubrication schedules.

It is plausible to draw the conclusion that failure to properly monitor the effectiveness of a very old but extremely critical piece of equipment cost the Riverhawks gate revenue, concessions revenue, merchandise revenue, and very easily can be the last piece of the franchise leaving Augusta all together.

Yesterday’s Riverhawks Facebook page status update shows that the decision on how the team will proceed will begin in a commission meeting in Augusta today:

Hi fans! We know many of you are wondering if there have been any new developments concerning the ice system replacement at the JBA (James Brown Arena). We are told that the Commission will be meeting tomorrow and this will be their first meeting to discuss the issues. We will keep you updated as information is made available to us!

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5 Responses to “Costly Ice System Problems Could Mean Augusta Riverhawks Hockey Team Flies Away”

  1. Mark Graban says:

    You raise an excellent point about TPM… but maybe the maximum life of the ice system is 12 years even with proper manufacturer-recommended maintenance?

    I wonder if the real cause is market related – do enough people in the south care about hockey, yet alone minor league hockey?? Was there a lack of funds for repairing / replacing the ice system due to lack of revenue?

  2. Chad Walters says:

    Mark –

    Augusta is part of the Southern Professional Hockey League and there are teams down here that draw very well. Augusta is sadly not one of them. $1M is a large chunk of change for any minor league organization to swallow, whether it’s hockey or baseball or anything else. That’s a crippling number if the team has to eat it in order to stick around.

    It’s also plausible that even with proper maintenance the life of the system would be the stated 12 years but it looks like this repair/replacement is coming as a large surprise to the franchise and the arena. If the team/stadium had been prepared for this (seeing they’re in year 15 on the 12-year clock and on the verge of replacement), would it even be an issue? It appears to have caught everyone off guard.

    • Mark Graban says:

      I don’t mean to dance on their icy grave, but that seems like really bad mismanagement to not track one of your core assets like that. $1M is $83,333 a year over 12 years… their annual budget has to be way more than that. It’s crippling to spend it all at once, but they should have been socking money away.

      • Chad Walters says:

        The Augusta Lynx played at the James Brown Arena until they ceased operations in the middle of the 2008-2009 season. The Augusta Riverhawks began playing in the same arena in the 2010-2011 season. I cannot find ownership information for the Lynx but I highly doubt the same owners also own the Riverhawks. Therefore, it is possible that the transition of teams and owners could have seen the management of the ice system (and planned replacement) fall through the cracks.

        However, ownership of the ice system should lie with the arena, despite the team transition. So yes…potential mismanagement and failure to recognize the planned replacement of a key piece of equipment could do the team in.

  3. Pingback: The Augusta Riverhawks and the Case for Quality | Lean Blitz – Do it better.

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