Last week’s announcement by the provincial government that it was stepping forward with $4 million in support for the province’s major junior and junior A hockey teams was a step in the right direction, but in the case of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), additional money will be needed.
The government announced $3 million for the five Western Hockey League (WHL) teams, with each team receiving $600,000. That’s good news. The WHL is a big part of the five cities where it has teams, and those teams have followers throughout the province.
More importantly for residents in this market, the province also announced $1 million for the SJHL, who will then distribute the money to the teams.
If that money were to be distributed evenly among the 11 teams in Saskatchewan (the Flin Flon Bombers, of course, are based in Manitoba) then that would work out to approximately $90,000 per team.
It’s a good start in helping teams that have taken a huge financial hit from COVID-19, but more support is needed.
Many people who reside outside of the SJHL’s markets might not realize that these are community-owned, non-profit organizations. When you buy a ticket to watch the Estevan Bruins, your money isn’t going to a deep-pocketed owner or group.
(Note: this is not a criticism of private ownership in junior A and other levels of hockey, just a statement of fact).
Some major junior teams are also community-owned.
Most of the junior A teams in Saskatchewan have a tenuous financial existence. A couple of lean years on the ice, which translate to off-ice struggles, can put them on the brink of ruin. Most SJHL teams have been on the brink of folding at least once this century, and have only survived because of a deep playoff run or a highly successful fundraiser or two.
That’s why the money for the SJHL teams should be a starting point for the government.
The SJHL was able to start its regular season in early November, but with only 150 fans in attendance. That might be enough for the Notre Dame Hounds, but it’s not enough for the Bruins and the other teams in the league.
The Bruins had a plan to have about 600 fans per game, but that was denied. Other teams were hoping to have more than 150 spectators, too. Any chance of having more than 150 fans per game fizzled when the province’s COVID-19 case count surged in October and early November.
It was a little absurd that an arena like Affinity Place, with its 2,662 capacity spread out over two levels, could only have as many people as a church or an auditorium that seats 500.
It would have been hard for the Bruins to make ends meet with 600 fans per game, but they would have still had a season for both the players and the fans to enjoy.
Yes, expenses are much lower now, without travel and accommodations to far-flung places like La Ronge, but the club will always have expenses, even when they aren’t playing.
Those expenses are a lot more than $90,000 for the season.
We also have to remember that COVID-19 hit during last year’s postseason, costing those that would have advanced to the second round tens of thousands of dollars.
Junior hockey clubs aren’t just a winter distraction for the fans. They’re a big part of the community, and their economic spinoff is likely in the millions of dollars.
They bring young men into the community who become a big part of the city. The players go into the schools to interact with local kids, regardless of whether those kids are hockey fans or not, and the Bruins also have jobs in the community during the season.
Many of them stick around during the summer months once their playing days are finished to raise a family.
And the Bruins and other junior hockey teams bring people to their community to work for the club.
That’s why these teams are so important to their communities.
And it’s why the government needs to bring more money to the table to ensure the future of these teams.