Minor hockey cashing in

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:57 AM ET

One of the strangest benefactors of the NHL lockout may just end up being minor hockey players across Canada. With advertisers unable to spend their money in NHL rinks or broadcasts anytime soon, Hockey Canada has attracted a record amount of corporate sponsorship for one of the only sure things in the hockey broadcast world -- the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver.

And what will Canadian hockey's governing body do with the additional profits?

"(Hockey Canada), the Canadian Hockey League and our 13 branches share in the world juniors profit," said Hockey Canada VP of business operations, Scott Smith.

"Each branch designates where the money goes but it generally goes to development programs for coaches, players and officials. It's an example of a how a high-performance program can create revenue for grassroots programs."

Although the 2006 profits will take a few years to trickle down to the youngsters across Canada, the windfall is expected to be overwhelming.

"Sponsorship for 2006 already sits between $1.3 and $1.4 million and our target is to get double that or more," said Smith, who added the previous record was $1 million in 2003.

"We still have enough inventory to get by that $2.5-million mark."

While the 2003 final in Halifax attracted the largest TV audience in TSN's history -- four million -- interest in this month's Christmas tourney to be hosted by Grand Forks, N.D., is expected to be sky high, given how starved Canadians are for world-class hockey.

"The ratings for the world juniors are through the roof," said Smith, who says many advertisers have taken money earmarked for NHL broadcasts and handed it to TSN for the Under-20 tourney won by the U.S. last year.

"The audience continues to grow and we expect this year the audience will be at least what Halifax was, if not better."

While Hockey Canada doesn't share in the increased TV profits this year, the audience it's expected to attract will sweeten the pot for a new deal they'll broker with a broadcaster in June '07 when the TSN contract expires.

"This just sets us up so well for Vancouver," said Smith, who can count on huge attendance in '06, especially if the lockout continues until then.

In Canadian NHL cities such as Calgary, Hockey Canada's increased revenue for minor hockey programs will do well to help generate some of the money missing by virtue of the relative inactivity of the Flames Foundation, which typically generates millions for local charities and hockey programs.


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