If fans of the Prince George Cougars had any concerns they might be considering a move to another city, Thursday's announcement that the WHL team has signed a new lease at CN Centre should alleviate those fears.
The Cougars have a new six-year arena lease agreement in place with the city retroactive to July 31, 2018 which provides the city revenue sharing based on the team's ticket sales, suite rentals, and food and beverage concessions. The lease also ensures the city will receive $50,000 annually in arena advertising revenue the Cougars receive. The sliding scale on ticket sales gives the city more revenue when the team draws bigger crowds and less when there are fewer fans in the 6,000 seat arena.
"The more fans that attend Cougar games, the better the city does," said Andy Beesley, the Cougars vice-president, business. "They keep the food and beverage commissions and at the end of the day, the more fans there are the better it is for everybody. From the Cougars' point of view, and I think I'm speaking on behalf of the city's side, we both feel it is a genuinely fair and equitable partnership agreement. Every arena (around the WHL) is vastly different and we've crafted a Prince George solution we're pretty proud of."
Beesley predicts the new lease will work well for both parties, as it has in previous years, and it shows the team under its local ownership group, EDGEPRo Sports & Entertainment, has no intention of ever leaving Prince George.
"We've never wavered once, behind closed doors or out in public, we've never talked about moving, we're all in it for the long haul, from our owners on down, we're committed to Prince George and we don't just talk about being committed, we've proven it," said Beesley.
Since the new ownership group bought the team in May 2014, Beesley said the Cougars have donated more than $1 million to local charities through its Alumni Hospital Charity golf tournament and proceeds from 50/50 draws.
"It's something that sets us apart from all the other teams, everything we do for charity purposes is for other people," said Beesley. "We've also given away over the last five years over $250,000 in merchandise and tickets and other stuff to help support people with their fundraisers and silent auction dinners.
"Looking at the last 25 seasons we've had over 2.5 million fans attend our games, it's a tremendous legacy and history we've had, including watching players like (Zdeno) Chara, (Brett) Connolly, (Dustin) Byfuglien, (Dan) Hamhuis and (Eric) Brewer in our own back yard. There's a lot the Cougars do to contribute to this community and it's more than just if we're winning and losing games."
The team's partnership with Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation led to the creation of the Spirit of Healthy Kids school program, which involves the players speaking to elementary school groups about making healthy lifestyle choices. That has reached 20,000 students in five years and this season, through video links, students throughout the Northern Health region will be able to participate, with each receiving a ticket for a Cougars game.
Mayor Lyn Hall was also on hand for the lease agreement announcement at CN Centre and he's looking forward to witnessing firsthand the Cougars' on-ice improvement, having missed the playoffs for a second straight season.
"This agreement provides the city with important revenue, it keeps the Cougars as our Number 1 tenant in a premier city facility, and it allows both organizations to benefit in the future, based on team improvements and increased attendance at CN Centre," said Hall. "On behalf of council, I'm very pleased to see the Cougars and the city working so well together, and as a fan, I can't wait for next season to begin."