Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kootenay invokes attendance clause

For the News-Advertiser

Ice invoke attendance clause once again

by Jeff Bromley

The Kootenay Ice are not leaving Cranbrook, at least not yet.

Informed of by the club some 30 days following the conclusion of the playoffs but only surfacing last week the Kootenay Ice notified the City of Cranbrook of their intention to invoke a clause in their 15-year lease at the Cranbrook Rec Plex that allows the club to be released from it should the level of attendance drop below the 2800 paid mark. Though the number wasn’t announced reports have put the actual paid attendance for last season at 2770 per game, including playoffs.

“It’s a big concern to us,” said Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth after his club invoked the clause for the second time in the eight-year history of the team’s Rec Plex lease. “We’re down 11% the last two seasons and that’s after a 49-win season and a 42-win season. If you’re down that much and you’re winning, what does that say when we have an off-year? Everyone knows that junior hockey is a cyclical business and we’re all going to have off-years at one time or another. Fortunately, we haven’t had that yet during our ten years in Cranbrook.”

“We think we have 2500-2600 of the best fans in the entire CHL, unfortunately it’s not enough to make a go of it.”

Though the announced attendance brings the club’s average to 3026, according to figures compiled from the WHL website - that number includes three ticket nights averaging around 1200 freebies for the three nights this past season – as well as the club’s complimentary tickets given to players’ families and billets. Take away those tickets and the average attendance including four playoff games this season drops below the line of 2800 per game.

The notification of the club’s use of the clause means that if two consecutive seasons are below that threshold the team can get out of its 15-year lease with the City-owned facility and explore options of relocating the team to another city, something that wouldn’t be good news for the $22.5 million, 4264-seat facility or the city itself.

Chynoweth was adamant that the clause is not a “gun to the head of the city” but instead strictly a business decision that protects the team should the fan base completely fall off. When asked how the lower attendance affected the club’s bottom line - whether or not the club lost money this past season - he chose not to comment. When asked if the club had held talks with other markets about possible relocation Chynoweth offered an emphatic no and instead focussed on the optimism of talks between both the club and the city to help secure their future in Cranbrook. “None whatsoever,” he said about relocation rumours, specifically to Victoria and to a lesser extent, Penticton. “We’ve stated from day one and it’s no different from the last time this clause was activated, we want to be here for years to come.”

“We are in lease negotiations with the city right now and we’ve had some good conversation. Hopefully we’ll have something at the end of the summer that we can announce that will work for both parties.”

Chynoweth does admit that having to deal with the city over this issue and other concerning the Rec Plex has been a pleasant surprise compared to what they had to deal with when Keen Rose ran the facility. The public-private-partnership that built the complex in 2000 ceased to exist when the city took sole control of it last year. “Right away we aren’t dealing with people out of Toronto and that’s where the entire decision making was based when Keen Rose ran the facility. Quite frankly I don’t think they cared that much about Cranbrook,” said Chynoweth. “That hurt everyone in the building but from our end it’s been great since the city took over last year. We have a great relationship and that’s what you want in a partnership.”

In a city of 20,000 – the second-smallest market in the WHL and third smallest across major junior hockey – are the expectations of a small centre in a big centre league too high? “We, as a city, have set that bar,” he said. “The on-ice success, a rich hockey history that’s based in this region (the fans) expects good teams and they’ve had that at all levels of hockey over the years. Look at the numbers. We’ve got a great season ticket base and a great marketing base. What we’re missing is that casual fan of 800-1000 fans a night. How do we get that back? That’s the question.”

Fast Facts – Kootenay has had six, 40-win seasons since relocating to Cranbrook in 1998... Attendance when the Rec Plex opened in 2000 was 3641; 2001 it was 3473, the year of the Memorial Cup win; while 2002-03 topped 3442. In 03-04, the first year the club invoked the clause, attendance fell a whopping 15%... Based on the given numbers average attendance in 2006-07 was 3064 a differense of 11% over 2007-08... Over the ten seasons that the club has been in Cranbrook the Ice are the WHL’s leading franchise in regular season wins... According to the announced numbers four clubs finished behind the Ice in attendance in the 22-team WHL. In order, Swift Current, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Prince George all sported lower average attendance. The first three do not have buildings that can support crowds over 2900... The City of Penticton, which currently has a BCHL team, the Vees, is currently constructing the 5100-seat Southern Okanagan Events Centre, thus the speculation a WHL team could move to the city of 32,000.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually Jeff Pentictons BCHL team is the Vee's it used to be the Panthers. Just to throw that out there.

Joel Siemens

Contact - jeffbromley_@hotmail.com said...

Thanks, shows maybe I'm getting old.

JB

Wolf said...

Do the Niedermayers not own a percentage of the team ? If so would a comment from them not be appropriate ?

Contact - jeffbromley_@hotmail.com said...

You're right, the Neidermayers do own just under 25% of the team but have been silent partners for the better part of eight years.
Their participation with the club is at arms-length - at least for now - but with their playing careers winding down that's expected to change in the future.
As for comment, they have always deferred to the Chynoweths.

JB

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

I remember having long drawn out debates with you on a message board (network54) circa 2003 regarding this very situation. I also remember you being very angry at me, and dismissing me as some sort of idiot because I said this would happen. I will revisit what I said back then:

1. The city of Cranbrook is not a hockey town and that they traditionally do not support teams very well. You argued that.

2. I said that the citizens would drop population below 3000 by 2006-2007. Sorry, I am a year late. You went at me for that saying I didn't have a clue.

3. I also said that the Chynoweths are not committed to that area and that they would love to get to another area like Boise. You insisted that they would never move the team.

4. I also insisted that the deal the Chynoweths got was heavily weighted to favor them and that the city sold its soul to get them there. You disagreed saying that the city did what they had to do. I said that they sold out. Now we find out that the city gave them an excape clause. Oh my goodness.

Anyways Jeff - I don't take pleasure in the situation. I just find it interesting that you attacked me personally because I predicted EXACTLY what was going to happen there.

Contact - jeffbromley_@hotmail.com said...

First off, I don't remember getting angry with you, just disagreeing, of which I still do on some points.

Not a hockey town? Give me an example of a similarly sized town that supports major junior hockey to the numbers that they do. You won't find one. Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL is the closest. Not a hockey town? For a town of 19,000, not bad.

By the population comment I assume you mean paid attendance, of which has gone below 3000 twice in the last eight seasons. The average of the other six is north of 3100. Attendance ebbs and flows in small markets. Better marketing would correct that.

As for Chynoweth being committed to the area, he's committed as much as any WHL owner. When the attendance goes down they all sabre rattle. The Niedermayers would be just as concerned if they were the majority owners but likely not as blatant.

As for the city doing what they had to do, I was referring then to the building of the complex and the vote to get it down. Without a Rec Plex there's no team. The City had nothing to do with the club's 15-year lease. That was negotiated by the private partner that's now out of the picture. The city never gave the club the escape clause so you should get your facts straight.

Anyways, you made some good points and your so-called predictions were easy to call on a small-market club but in reality, nothing has changed. The club had a down year at the box office. Next year might be better, maybe not. It hardly states that the club is going to pack their bags and leave.

Though you make some good points I really don't remember personally attacking or having the conversation with an anonymous person in 2003 who now choses not to identify themselves.

JB

Anonymous said...

If the city owns the building and finances a large percentage of it, then they clearly are ultimately accountable for the escape clause. I don't care who writes up the agreement. The city had veto on it and was actively involved in the lobbying that went on to get the team there. The management group answered to the city. Now the management group is gone and the city holds the bill for the team and running the facility. if you want to get hung up on wording that is up to you. The bottom line is that the Chynoweth group got major concessions that the city had the power to control and nix.

Chymoweth's never needed to sabre rattle because they have the sabre pointed right above the heart of the deal. From second one, they were given the green light to write their own ticket. With absolutely no accountability to stick around.

As for my predictions, if you choose to dismiss them as small market predictions that is fine. But, I was correct on them. Something you said would not happen. Cranbrook has done a good job of getting behind this thing. But, all I tried to say from day 1 is that they are crazy to give all of the concessions they gave and to get stuck with that huge arena.

As well, please do not forget that the first Ice owner, Mr. Stypula, completely submarined the RMJHL at the 11th hour to get this thing in place. He could have moved the Colts to Invermere and kept the league alive. The league had a six teams to stay alive mandate. But, he chose to let the Colts situation to cloud the whole league with such confusion that other teams panicked. The bottom line is that the Ice wanted Rocky Hockey dead because it could then have a monopoly on the area's fans.

Well, have fun with no team. I respect what you guys have done there as fans.

All I wanted you to see was that THIS was coming. And you refused to believe it. Well, it's coming because the Chynoweths had nothing to lose. License to print money for a few years as the club's price appreciated and the get out of Cranbrook free card to use at any time the second the money press stopped.

I was right, you were wrong. And the only reason I am going back to it is because you were very negative and disresepctful through our communications.

Anonymous said...

hey buddy get bent, you sound like a rocket fan. the team is not going anywhere, as well as I have heard the city and team have come up with a new lease for 15 years that does NOT include a clause for attendance.

You call jeff Rude? every single line you wrote in both your messages exudes ignorance and the classic 5 year old "I told you so" attitude. go worry about your own team pal.

Fightstrap50

Anonymous said...

Fightstrap,

It has absolutely nothing to do with you. And by the way, it was I told you so. Because I did tell him. And he was a dick about it.

Contact - jeffbromley_@hotmail.com said...

You still chose not to identify yourself. Why? You sound the trumpets of I told you so but yet refuse to acknowledge yourself or even prove that we had the conversation five years ago. I looked and couldn't find anything of the sort.

You make some good points and with each response sound like a bitter person over the situation - the RMJHL comments give you away - but that's fine and you're entitled to your opinion.

The lease's out-clause hasn't been satified yet, so you're getting ahead of yourself if you think the club's just going to pack up and leave. Come back in eight months if the attendance is still below the 2800 level you might have a point. If it's not or in a few weeks a new lease is announced without the clause, I'm sure I'll hear from you.

And stuck with the building? Built for 22.5 million it's a bargain compared to what Moose Jaw is going through to get their new building built - $65 million and rising - Medicine Hat ($80 million) and even Swift Current's upgrade to 3000 seats ($14 million). It's a good building that has great usage and was sorely needed in this community.

Sorry to dash your hopes but the club isn't going anywhere yet.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,
Let's get something straight here. I have a lot of respect for your writing and for the people of Cranbrook and certainly don't want the team to leave. All the past events and occurences have nothing to do with this. I just wanted to see if you recalled this. Anyway, no hard feelings and keep up the great work. If I am pissed about anthing, it is that your ownership would even consider talking about leaving after all that city has done for them. That is what empassions me.

Thanks

Contact - jeffbromley_@hotmail.com said...

We agree then, but I don't recall the conversation and even spent the better part of an hour searching for it. Hey, sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong.

I guess we'll have to watch closely this season and see what transpires, moreso off the ice than on it.

JB

Anonymous said...

Well attendence's now are going back to average, the last game was 4,282, and most of the other games are around the 3,500 area, maybe if the kootenay Ice had fire flames shooting up from the ice at the start of the game and more exciting startings of the games, it would bring more people.