San Diego Sports Arena will be new home of Ducks’ AHL affiliate

The Valley View Casino Center, or better known as the San Diego Sports Arena to locals, has been without a tenant since 2006 when the San Diego Gulls of the ECHL folded.

The Sports Arena was once an iconic venue in San Diego sports. The Clippers played there and John Wooden coached his final game in the building at the 1975 NCAA Championship. Back in the 90s, tens of thousands of fans used to back the stands to watch the Gulls win WCHL Taylor Cups.

Now, there’s some concerts here and there, Aziz Ansari is getting ready to perform a comedy show, the Lakers will play one or two preseason games there and there is an indoor soccer team that uses the building. It’s a far cry from what it once was, but the Anaheim Ducks are hoping to revive the place by writing a new chapter in San Diego sports history when they move their AHL team from Norfolk, Va., to America’s Finest City next fall.

"I can remember years ago when I retired and I was scouting, one of my first trips to San Diego," Ducks’ General Manager Bob Murray said. "There was over 10,000 people in the building and it was a great hockey city."

It’s as untraditional of a market as Anaheim and Los Angeles, but it’s a foothold in a market of over 3 million people, which not only helps expand the Ducks’ brand but it helps further the organization’s efforts to expand the sport on the west coast.

The Ducks’ high school hockey program has grown from two teams to 41 and the RINKS program now boasts seven local rinks in the Orange County and Inland Empire areas. The plans are now to expand the RINKS program down to San Diego as well. The Ducks’ owners, Henry and Susan Samueli, have been immensely influential and successful in their efforts to grow the game on the west coast and they have now firmly set their sights south.

"The Samueli family, the whole RINKS program – everything that we do, we’re going to continue to do down in San Diego," Murray said. "We want San Diego to be an extension of what we do now and we hope to have all of the same programs. The Samueli family believes in this and they’re behind it 100 percent, so we’re intending on growing hockey in the San Diego area."

AEG and the Kings already own and control their own ECHL team in Ontario, which will become their AHL team next season, and they also control the Citizens Bank Business Arena. The Inland Empire is already a region in the Kings’ market but they’re likely to see more benefits and receive more fan support from the Pacific Division expansion as well.

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The Ontario Reign already lead the ECHL in attendance and with one of the best marketing teams in the league, it’s an identifiable brand that’s only going to get stronger.

The Ducks will operate using a similar model, controlling much of the operations of the Valley View Casino Center. Upgrades to the dressing rooms will be the first improvement made and refurbishments to the scoreboards and seating will follow. Practices are likely to be at Poway Ice as negotiations are underway but Murray notes there are a few other options as well.

From the first day that Murray was on the job, he was championing a Lewis and Clark-like westward expansion. Now that it’s finally been approved, Anaheim’s ducklings can officially fly south.

"It’s been a goal of ours and the key here is that the general managers got together and they stayed on the same page," Murray said. "We all have the same vision and the same goal and for competitive guys such as ourselves, it was kind of remarkable that we stayed firm and stayed strong. We just had to make this happen for so many reasons."