The B.C. Hockey League is asking the provincial government for financial aid to help bail out teams suffering from lost revenues tied to COVID-19 pandemic.
The league was forced to cancel the rest of its playoffs on March 13 when Hockey Canada made its decision to shut down all events indefinitely. The eight remaining teams counting on playoff ticket sales and game sponsorships to offset their season costs had to forego that revenue potential and send their players home. Teams also had to cancel spring tryout camps, a significant loss of income.
“We are seeking the support of the B.C. government and are merely asking for a meeting to explain the economic, social and cultural impact of our teams on the 17 B.C. communities they represent,” said Graham Fraser, chairman of the BCHL’s board of governors.
The request for government assistance was backed by the mayors of the 17 teams that operated this past season, as well as the District of Kitimat, which hosted two Prince George-Langley regular season games in February.
Prince George Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes said the league estimates the combined team losses in lost ticket sales and sponsorships at about $3 million. Teams have been granted the option to opt out of league for next season to allow them a year to restore operating budgets but Hawes said none have yet indicated they plan to do that.
The community-owned Spruce Kings, as a not-for-profit group, raise more than half their season operating budget from their show home lottery and 50/50 draws but Hawes says that revenue source is not available to privately-owned teams in the league.
“Many teams in our league are going to be financially hurting from the pandemic and when we come out of this, first and foremost, obviously the priority is the health of our franchises,” said Hawes.
“As far as our losses, we were more fortunate than others because we didn’t lose any playoff revenue because we were knocked out of the playoffs. We did lose some income from the spring camp (in April) we would have held. What the future looks like as far as our corporate support moving forward, it’s hard to say what impact that’s going to have but it certainly will be some.”
For its application to the province the league asked each of its teams to submit in-depth financial statements and provide an estimate how much of an impact each has on stimulating the economy of its home city. For the Spruce Kings, that figure is about $250,000.
“Our league brings a lot to the economy,” said Hawes. “Even the community-owned teams like ourselves have paid employees who rely on the teams for their incomes. When you get 1,000 or 2,000 people that gather in an arena and the economy that brings, and the teams that travel around the province and use hotel rooms and eat in restaurants, our league and teams spend a lot of money throughout the province to operate.
“We’re fortunate this didn’t hit last year (during the Spruce Kings’ run to their first BCHL championship). I feel really bad for the teams that a put together a really good season. Coquitlam really struggled last year and to put together the year they had and the run they could have gone on, that’s really unfortunate.”
The 18-team league, which also includes the expansion Cranbrook Bucks, already agreed at its January meeting to reduce the season schedule from 58 games to 54, with a tentative opening date of Sept. 18 and the end of the season in mid-March. There are alternate plans for 50- or 46-game seasons, depending on when COVID-19 restrictions on crowd gatherings are lifted.
“We have every intention of playing hockey next season, with all 18 of our teams, if we get the green light from Hockey Canada as well as the provincial health authorities,” said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb. “But, the reality is we’ve identified potential financial issues down the road due to this pandemic and want to address these problems now.
“The league has already lent its support to our teams through a contingency fund, but it’s clear that more is needed.”
The first of three league meetings by teleconference is scheduled for Wednesday.
In other BCHL news, Trail Smoke Eaters centre Kent Johnson was named the Canadian Junior Hockley League’s top forward. Johnson won the BCHL scoring title with 41 goals and 101 points, becoming only the second BCHL player since 2016 to total 100 points in a season.
Other finalists for the award include Carter Savoie (Sherwood Park Crusaders, AJHL), Brodie MacArthur (Summerside Western Capitals, MJAHL), Caleb Serre (Blind River Beavers, NOJHL) and Harrison Israels (Oakville Blades, OJHL).
Johnson, a University of Michigan recruit for next season, is the BCHL’s nominee for the CJHL MVP award, to be announced later this week.