The Topeka Pilots parted with three employees on Thursday, a move that slashed the first-year North American Hockey League team’s office staff nearly in half.
Joe Clark, the team’s director of business operations; Karen Alfrey, manager of group sales; and Caroline Rea, director of game production and graphic content, were dismissed.
Keli Lee, Pilots director of business development, confirmed that Alfrey and Rea were terminated, but she indicated Clark resigned.
When contacted Friday and asked to clarify whether he resigned or was fired, Clark declined to comment.
The dismissals leave four staffers in the Pilots’ front office. Still employed are Simon Watson, general manager and head coach; Sally Ives, director of ticket accounts; Daniel Mandel, sponsorship account executive; and Lee.
Lee said the team “just decided to make some changes within the office and within the organization” and that management believed the moves were “the right decisions for the future of the Topeka Pilots.”
“We’re looking forward to where hockey is going in Topeka and eager to get there,” Lee said.
Thursday’s staff reduction is the latest in a series of issues that Topeka’s amateur hockey team has faced, many related to lagging attendance.
Formerly known as the Topeka RoadRunners, the NAHL club was rumored to be leaving for the Dallas-Fort Worth area in June 2015. A month later, the Shawnee County Commission approved a new three-year lease agreement that kept the team at the Kansas Expocentre.
The team was called the RoadRunners until last year, when Lamar Hunt Jr. purchased the organization from Don Stone II and later changed the name.
Hunt Jr., a son of late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, had high hopes for the organization when he bought it in April. At the time, he said he would give the team a “minimum” of two years in Topeka.
“We feel good about Topeka,” said Hunt, whose company also owns the Kansas City Mavericks, a professional hockey team that competes in the ECHL. “It’s a pretty big market; you’ve had success here in the past and that’s kind of what this is about.”
However, the struggle to attract fans has continued under Hunt’s ownership. The NAHL website lists the Pilots’ average attendance at 1,222, but that number reflects tickets distributed rather than paid or actual attendance and at times appears inflated. For instance, in the Pilots’ season-opening 7-6 shootout win against Odessa, attendance was listed at 1,003, but the crowd numbered only between 200 and 300.
On the ice, the team currently is tied for fourth place in the six-team NAHL South Division with 34 points and a record of 15-15-2-2. The Amarillo Bulls lead the South with 48 points and a 22-3-2-2 record.
The Pilots are idle this weekend. They will return to action Jan. 11 and 12 when they play a two-game set at the Lone Star Brahmas.