Hockey Mustangs seek a Fair deal

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

The Western Mustangs men's hockey team is leaving its corral at the John Labatt Centre, hoping to play next season's games at Western Fair Sports Centre.

It wasn't much of a surprise that the Mustangs opted to leave the JLC after two years. Even though they averaged about 1,100 fans a game, the optics of so few fans in a venue that holds more than 9,000 was not appealing.

It also wasn't appealing to director of athletics Mike Lysko that while his staff did the majority of the work, they garnered almost none of the profits.

"The people at the JLC from an operational standpoint were great," Lysko said. "But we generated a lot of revenue for them in food, concessions and rent. The way the deal was situated we had 99 per cent of the expenses and got one per cent of the revenue. We made out just fine, but it was just too much work. That's the difference between being a partner and being a tenant. The model there doesn't work unless you are a partner."

But a final Western Fair deal is waiting for the City of London to allocate ice time to the Mustangs. Lysko said negotiations have been going on for more than two months. The deadline is tomorrow.

"Hugh Mitchell (chief operating officer) of Western Fair approached us and wants us there, but he's waiting word from the city before the deal can be made," Lysko said.

"Western Fair represents the best fit for us if we plan to continue to grow Mustang hockey."

Mitchell believes the deal is "doable if everyone focuses on the ultimate goal."

"We're very close on this deal," he said.

Lysko said Western Fair would get all the money from the concessions on nights when the Mustangs play.

"I know we can put more than 1,100 people in there a game and I know we sold a lot of beer and food at the JLC. We can do that here," he said. "There were two things people complained about at the JLC --- parking and the cost of beer."

Beer is cheaper at Western Fair and parking on site.

Lysko would be paying about a 10th of the rent he paid at the JLC. The main ice surface at Western Fair has a capacity of about 1,500.

Lysko said he's also been working with the user groups at Western Fair, assuring them their inconvenience would be kept to a minimum. Western Fair is a prime facility for minor hockey and minor hockey tournaments, most of which run on weekends. A tentative Ontario university schedule would have the Mustangs playing 14 regular season games, six on Thursday nights, six on Saturday nights and two on Sunday afternoon.

Mitchell said about six tournaments would have to adjust their schedule.

"I'm an optimist," Mitchell said. "And I'm an optimist because this makes a lot of sense for us, for the city and for the UWO Mustangs."

Lysko is all about marketing, increasing the visibility and expanding revenue bases for all the athletic programs at Western. He believes the hockey program can only grow if games are played off campus. "At one time, it might have been a good place to watch a hockey game. But our fans have been pretty clear . . . they're not interested in going to Thompson to watch hockey. I look at Western Fair with it's accessibility, the individual bucket seats, the lighting, the hub of minor hockey, it all makes sense for us."

But Lysko can't wait forever. If the deal with Western Fair doesn't go through by next week, then Lysko will return to Thompson Arena which will hold open those game dates for the hockey team until late next week.

"We are at a crossroads with hockey right now. If this doesn't happen, we'll go back to Thompson arena and I can go home at 5 o'clock. What I'm not going to do is throw good money after bad at Thompson. We'll do our level best . . . I want to make things bigger and better. I think this property deserves a canvas that fits."


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