Richard Neil Graham (Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks: A Rocking History of Roller Hockey International) joins the big show to delve into the 1990s summertime indoor league started by inveterate sports entrepreneur (and defunct sports patron saint) Dennis Murphy – designed to profit from major arena owners’ desire for summer events, minor league players looking for extra work, and a budding national craze for inline skating.
Despite deep pockets from several team and arena owners from the NBA and NHL – including Los Angeles’ Buss family (previous Murphy partners in World Team Tennis two decades earlier), and Howard Baldwin (an original franchise owner in the Murphy-founded World Hockey Association in 1972) – the bulk of RHI franchises were decidedly less capitalized or marketing-savvy.
That didn’t stop the league from aggressive expansion, however, from an inaugural 1993 roster of 12 teams to a mind-boggling 24 franchises the following season (and diligent listeners to this podcast know how ambitious moves like those often turn out). Predictably, by RHI’s sixth and final campaign in 1999 (after taking 1998 off to reorganize), the league was down to eight clubs and barely made it to season’s end.
National TV coverage on a fledgling ESPN2, solid fan enthusiasm in places like Anaheim (the Bullfrogs regularly drew 10,000+ fans a game to the new Arrowhead Pond), innovative rules adjustments (five-a-side teams and no blue lines, to open up space and scoring), and even a novel proprietary puck designed to generate long-term sustainable licensing revenues, were not enough to sustain RHI into the new millennium.