Hockey Canada money hungry

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:11 PM ET

It's a longshot, but maybe Hockey Canada can be embarrassed into giving small and medium markets a chance to hold the world junior hockey championship.

But it needs to put what's good for hockey first, not the almighty bank book.

In what can only be called a shocking development, London's board of control told Tourism London general manager John Winston to notify Hockey Canada that London intends to bid for the 2009 world junior tournament.

The initial reaction was laughter. The amount of guaranteed money needed to win the bid has gone beyond what most small- and medium-sized junior hockey markets can afford. This tournament, which once represented the junior game's grassroots involvement and emotion, has gone big league.

Hockey Canada is the Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, who lectures students that "greed is good."

Hockey Canada loves to use the expression "raising the bar." Halifax raised the bar when it turned over a cheque for almost $4 million. Vancouver raised the bar to $9 million. The way the bar keeps rising, it's going to take an Olympian effort to clear it. Either that or one very talented banker.

London will be competing against Edmonton/Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City and Saskatoon. Five of those cities have National Hockey League teams. Along with Quebec City, they have venues with twice the number of seats at the John Labatt Centre.

London can't be serious about getting into this bidding war? Of course, it is an opportunity for politicians to provide sound bites during an election year.

It's unfair to waste Winston's time and to whet the appetite of Londoners, when there's no chance to bring the tournament here.

London's not alone. The financial commitments leave places such as Red Deer, Swift Current, Brandon and many other grassroots junior hockey centres out in the cold because their facilities are too small.

The Medicine Hat Tigers have been selling out their 4,006-capacity building for 2 1/2 years. Those fans deserve to be rewarded for supporting junior hockey.

Instead, they can't provide enough money for Hockey Canada.

Three years ago, when London bid for the 2006 event, it guaranteed a minimum profit of $4.6 million. Winston was looking at $11 million in revenue through tickets, government sponsorships and donations.

Expenditures would be $5.1 million.

"The numbers are a little different now," Winston said, adding London still needs to find a partner to take a number of games.

He's looking at $11 million in ticket revenue and $3 million in government and corporate donations. Expenditures would be about $6 million. Elementary math says that's an $8-million guarantee to Hockey Canada. That doesn't mean the city would be on the hook for all that money. It would be on the hook for a shortfall.

As for ticket pricing, it would be unaffordable for many fans who have kept junior hockey afloat. The price for the main package three years ago was $795. The main package this time would be a minimum (please note the word minimum) $1,100.

Here's one other number that's interesting. In 1999, Winnipeg turned over $1 million to Hockey Canada. This year's tournament returned $9 million. Exponential growth to 2009 means a guarantee of about $12 million and others will offer that.

So let's stop fooling the troops here. Stop trying to make political chicken salad out of chicken feathers. It just doesn't work. Unless the city is willing to contribute a sizable chunk of change, this isn't happening.

But harken below.

"It's never been stated that small markets need not apply," said David Branch, president of the Canadian Hockey League, who also happens to be on the world junior site selection committee.

"Yes, a good business plan is a big part of the event. But between Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League, we recognize and appreciate the importance of every market in this hockey-mad country of ours."

Prove it.

Hockey Canada has come under extreme criticism for caring only about money, for forgetting the small- and medium-market teams, for loving the limelight provided by big markets.

Just maybe Hockey Canada can be embarrassed into actually practising what it preaches. Here's a community willing to guarantee $8 million and overcharge its fans so it can play host to a world junior championship.

That should be enough money to find out what Hockey Canada is really all about.


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