By Herald on January 19, 2021.
Despite having their regular season cut short combined with their entire playoff run being iced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ bottom line didn’t get checked too hard in the 2019-20 Western Hockey League season.
In fact, they pretty much broke even.
Though the pandemic wiped out the post season for the entire Canadian Hockey League in addition to cancelling the Hurricanes final five games of the season — three of those home games — the club still took a minimal loss last season with a deficit of $1,030 after reporting a net profit of $282,168 in 2018-19.
But with the puck yet to drop on this season and a 24-game schedule planned — likely without fans in the seats — the club said at Monday’s AGM that, at worst, they’re budgeting for a loss of a little over $1.3 million.
“It’s going to be a tough year for us, obviously,” said Hurricanes general manager of business operations Terry Huisman. “When we sat down to do the budgeting we waited as long as we possibly could to set a budget. The way we’ve looked at it now is we have an idea of where we’re going to be going this year as far as games played and are we going to be able to have fans in the building and what sorts of things we’re going to have in regards to WHL TV or the webcasting that is going to be available and what kind of assets we have to sell. Obviously, it’s going to be a tough year for us.”
Despite the tough road ahead, Hurricanes president Doug Paisley credited Huisman, Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt and their staffs for the work they did in a season that was cancelled with five regular season games to go and the lack of a post season that in 2019 netted the Canes a little over $336,000 despite a first-round exit.
“I think we’re really fortunate to have the guys we do, the experience they have and the job they do with their staffs,” said Paisley. “It’s extremely impressive to watch in a market that’s trending the other way across Canada and into the U.S. where attendance numbers are down and ours are up. The swing on that is significant. I think the numbers are in the 30th percentile and our numbers were up around 13 or 14 per cent last year.”
Paisley also noted increased season ticket and advertising numbers last season.
“The support for our organization in our community just speaks volumes with how engaged and how much people care about their team,” he said. “The job Terry does with the game day and the job Peter does with the competitive team on the ice is fun to watch. Everybody is engaged and everybody cares and it shows. The numbers prove that. When your counterparts in the same market are going the other way and in a year where you have every reason to make the excuse, for this group to break even, we’re pretty proud of those numbers.”
Huisman pointed to the Hurricanes advertising and the commitment of its corporate supporters to help guide the team through the coming season.
“That’s going to be a real key moving forward for us,” he said. “Hopefully, as things lighten up a little bit and we get a little further in we’ll be allowed to have some fans in the building. We’re going to tippy-toe through this one, for sure, and hope for the best at the end.”
Huisman also spoke of some loan options available to the Canes through the WHL.
“Some are relief funds that are available based on a long-term payback as well as some loan opportunities with specific banks that have been laid out,” he said. “The problem with that is we’re waiting word on working out the interest rates with the bank. They’re going to be low-interest loans that we can probably borrow up to a million dollars with a pay back over 10 years based on a minimum payment every year. That is looking promising for us, but it’s something we’re going to have to look in to and make sure it’s a good fit for our hockey club.”
Paisley said provincial relief is also occurring.
“We have a committee that was struck back in April or May that has been working diligently with the government. It’s always slow moving process, but the feedback we’ve been given — and we get an update almost every two weeks — is things are positive and haven’t been turned down.
“I think our government realized, both city level as well as the provincial level, how impactful these teams are to their communities, the economic driving ability these teams have for their communities and the ability to raise funds or for other organizations to piggyback. I don’t think our province or city takes that lightly and I’m confident they’ll be there for us. We don’t know what those numbers will look like, but I’m confident they’re going to step up.”
Last week, the Saskatchewan government announced $4 million to help out its five WHL franchises as well as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Each WHL team was given $600,000 with another million dollars going to the SJHL
“With the Saskatchewan announcement last week, I’m hoping that will spur and maybe motivate the other provinces to step up and help their clubs as well,” said Paisley.
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