The Alumni Game at Dort Federal Credit Union Events Center, Flint, Mich.

A 10-year partnership agreement has recently been announced between IMS Arena & Hockey Corps. and Flint. Mich.-based Dort Federal Credit Union that includes naming rights for the Perani Arena & Event Center, which is now the Dort Federal Credit Union Events Center. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Under the terms of the agreement, Dort Federal Credit Union will receive the naming rights and associated premier signage on and within the facility, which is owned by IMS Arena Corp. In a separate transaction, IMS Hockey Corp. and Dort Federal Credit Union will continue the sponsorship relationship with additional advertising, marketing and merchandising at the arena.

The IMS Hockey Corp. purchased the venue late last year.

“We first reached out to Dort last summer, prior to the ownership change,” said Jeremy Torrey, Dort Center’s general manager. “It was then five to six months from that initial point of contact until we were in serious negotiations for the naming rights.” 

Founded in 1951, Dort Federal Credit Union has more than 70,000 members and $640 million in assets.

“We have had a very long history of being active in the community and supporting community initiatives, so this deal is a nice extension for us,” said Jenny Ludwigsen, director of marketing for the Dort Federal Credit Union. “The venue is in our neighborhood, not far from our headquarters, so we definitely wanted to get on board.”

In January of this year, it was announced that the IMS Arena Corp. would be purchasing the facility for a new home team, the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Flint Firebirds, formerly the Plymouth Whalers.

“The Plymouth Whalers’ owner was looking to sell the team and Rolph Nilsen [owner of IMS Arena Corp.] was looking to buy one,” said Dominic Hennig, the Flint Firebirds Hockey Club’s director of broadcasting and communications. “The arena was acquired at the end of November prior to the team’s purchase and move in January.”

A month-long naming contest for the team attracted more than 4,000 submissions. The team’s draft took place in March.

The team has an operating budget of $2.5 million a year, said Hennig.

“We can’t talk about specific budget numbers, but expect annual traffic in the venue to increase two to three times,” said Torrey. “We anticipate attracting between 200,000 to 250,000 people annually.”

Since acquiring the arena, IMS has invested an undisclosed sum in the seven figures renovating the space, as is required by the OHL. Updates include replacing the I-69-facing exterior sign and installation of a 5.2-mm video board, which will be the highest resolution in North America.

New locker rooms, a player’s lounge, a medical training center, coaches' offices, a video room, a media suite and a front office also are part of the project. The smaller arena now has energy-efficient lighting and upgraded hockey glass and spectator netting. Renovations are scheduled for completion by Sept. 26, the start of the OHL hockey season.

“These improvements will be ongoing,” said Torrey. “We are continuously looking to upgrade concessions by bringing in new products, making equipment upgrades and enhancing POS systems.”

The venue, which hosted about 60 events in the last year, first opened in 1969 as the Industrial Mutual Association (IMA) Arena and became Perani Arena & Event Center in 2003. It includes a main arena with seating for more than 4,000 that accommodates more than 6,000 for concerts and other shows. The second arena has more than 25,000 square feet of floor space, fixed seating for approximately 1,100 and a total event capacity of 3,000. The facility was originally equipped with two sheets of ice.

The second arena had artificial turf installed in 2006 and is currently used for indoor field sports including baseball, football, lacrosse, soccer and softball. In 2010, the main arena was updated with high efficiency lighting and a new roof. Other renovations included improved concessions stands and refaced interior walls in the main arena.

The arena’s first primary tenants were the original Flint Generals, of the International Hockey League, beginning in 1969. The association continued through a number of leagues with the updated Generals team until it ceased operations in 2010. From 2010-2015 the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) called the arena home.

The OHL consists of 20 teams, with 17 in Ontario. It is one of the three major junior ice hockey leagues constituting the Canadian Hockey League, which also includes the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. More than half of the players in the National Hockey League are from the CHL and four of the six first overall NHL draft picks this year were former CHL players. 

Compared to the NHL’s 82-game season, the OHL plays 68 games per season, and the Flint Firebirds will play 34 home games at the Dort Federal Credit Union Center.

Interviewed for this article:  Dominic Hennig, (586) 925-6095; Jenny Ludwigsen, (810) 244-6662; Jeremy Torrey, (810) 744-0580, ext. 204