By Lethbridge Herald on March 4, 2014.
Not for sale, not being sold and not moving to Winnipeg.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes tried to put to rest some scurrilous rumours on Monday as the Internet and blogosphere blew up with talk of the team being sold and moved and replaced and joining the Doctor in his TARDIS on a trip through time and space.
So, business as usual in the 2013-14 Western Hockey League season.
The Hurricanes are in bad shape and as bleak as the on-ice reality of a nine-game losing streak and the guaranteed worst season ever almost pales in comparison to the off-ice drama of a disappearing fanbase and the economics of a team which has had to make the equivalent of a cash advance to pay operating expenses.
Using the league’s end-of-year payout to cover a $100,000 shortfall in operations is the least of this team’s problems. At the February mid-season shareholders meeting, board president Brian McNaughton told fans the temporary line of credit to cover operations would be paid back when the league’s accrued revenues came to them. That’s bad news, but a broke team plus the franchise’s worst-ever record and a raft of player desertions is far worse, since it has spawned a cottage industry of rumour spreading.
Add in the recent letter to the editor in the Lethbridge Herald where the chairman of the board’s finance committee, Doug Paisley, said the Hurricanes are not a big business despite a $2.3 million operating budget and a value of anywhere from $6-$10 million, and the Hurricanes are providing plenty of grist for the mill.
So when the Internet began churning with talk of the Hurricanes being sold to True North Sports Entertainment and becoming the Manitoba Moose, and the Kootenay Ice heading to Lethbridge? That might be why board vice-president Brian Wichers stepped up to the media to address some of the rumours which have swamped the team.
And he opened with a blanket statement.
“There’s been no league involvement at all to this point, it’s still business as usual,” said Wichers. “The league hasn’t contacted us in regards to anything to do with the hockey club so we’re just moving forward.”
Wichers added that the Hurricanes aren’t for sale, haven’t been sold and are making plans for next year.
“I guess that’s a good question, we’re not for sale, nobody’s come, again, to talk to us about the sale of the hockey team,” he said. “The board of directors of the hockey team are in charge of running the hockey team and that’s what we’re doing.”
And not sold?
“Not sold,” he said.
Wichers said the team has already been working on corporate sales for next year and will be offering its season ticket packages at the next home game.
“Obviously, you’re not going to get those things to go away anyway, rumours are going to be rumours,” he said. “There’s no truth to those rumours. Again, it’s just business as usual. The Lethbridge Hurricanes are in good standing with the league so there’s no issue with us and the Western Hockey League.”
The team has been cutting costs on the corporate side and yes, there’s the matter of the line of credit — which McNaughton said was from Servus Credit Union — to temporarily cover costs. But, Wichers restated, that money will come back to the team from the league. It’s all in the timing.
“There are some accrued revenues that come in from the league and from the city and we have to wait for those revenues too,” he said. “And that’s toward the end of the year and we’re getting to that point but again there’s other factors that have come in the last four or five years not just the performance of the hockey team. We went through a pretty severe renovation here that’s seen some attendance dwindle a bit during that time and so it was tough. Even though the hockey team maybe didn’t perform as well, it was still tough to get people in our building.
“I think this year we still have some good support with our fans and they’re very passionate and that’s great to see here at the hockey games and they’re here to support the players and the organization and that’s good to see.”
The lease with the city is also almost a done deal, said Wichers, with a few more fine points to be settled. But a sale? Wichers was clear: The board is in charge and he said the team will be community owned when the puck drops next season. No matter what the Internet says.
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