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.