No reprieve from hockey fees

My 16-year-old came home the other day with a hockey rumour. Next year, junior hockey was going to cost his parents.

Having financially supporting my son’s minor hockey life for a decade at $4,000 per year (excluding travel costs—hotel, gas, food—and equipment—skates, sticks, helmets—and incidentals), I thought the time had come when we could kick back, relax, and spend some of that hard-earned money on ourselves. #foolish #selfish.

The past decade of minor hockey has cost us approximately $40,000 just to play on a Triple-A minor hockey team; that’s $4,000 per year in team expenses and about $600 in league fees. Year after year, our yearly team budget paid for ice time, apparel, the occasional specialized training, a couple of chartered buses, police checks for the coaching staff, and as the players got older and non-parent coaches took to the bench, it covered hotel rooms and travel expenses for the coaching staff.

At four grand, we were paying $1,000-$2,000 per season less than our peers in other leagues.

Unlike our peers in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL),  team parents never paid gate fees for home games; we only paid gate fees ($3 or $4) for away games when the kids were younger—maybe up to Atom, or Minor PeeWee (ages 10/11). And up to our son’s Bantam year (ages 12/13), coaches were parent volunteers, so there was no stipend or salary required.

Don’t get me wrong. This was money well spent. I would not trade the benefits of playing a competitive, team sport. Not for a second. I guess I just assumed once my son reached the junior hockey age that we would be free of the four-thousand-dollar price tag and I was looking forward to it.

When I heard the news, uh, the rumour, I started to wonder about the junior hockey league’s justification for the introduction of fees.

Junior A in our area has been reduced by 13 teams since 2008-09 season. According to the OJHL website, the “total number of OJHL teams that have decommissioned or merged since the 2009-2010 season to 13.”  Two seasons earlier member teams numbered 31; one season earlier they numbered 27. In the 2012-13 season, they reduced teams by three and now have 24 teams.

The contraction is supposed to lead to improved quality in other junior levels (B, C, D) and in minor hockey. particularly the Midget years (ages 15–17).

So does Junior hockey become hometown hockey to be run by volunteers and paid individuals on an executive committee? Are team owners (who, when talking bottom line will always remind you that it is a for-profit business) willing to turn over some of the decision making to paying parents? Because when parents are paying for their kids hockey, they want their money’s worth.

Our year in Junior C level our OHA registration fees were $300 (tax deductible), plus GST and $1,000 maximum in team fees/fundraising costs. We were still on the hook for gate fees—home and away—of almost $400 for regular season (which were included in an $800 sponsorship package friends of ours purchased), plus $10 per head for playoff games. All in all, fees totalled around $2100. Half our usual costs.

But more than I expected to pay. In our minor hockey years, it was rumoured that junior hockey would allow us a financial break. Not so.

If this is the new normal then so be it, but I sincerely hope that having parents foot the bill does not mean that we will revert to parental behaviour of minor hockey where coaches are hounded about player’s ice time, position, and captaincy. No thanks.

Will fees make up a shortfall, increase the team’s bottom line, or refill the OHAs coffers?

Are these businesses losing money? Am I expected to make up the bottom line shortfall?  What is it about the expeditures and revenues that these business folks cannot make ends meet and need me—and the families of 20 other players—to supplement?

If I help foot the bill, how much will I pay? $500 in OHA fees? $4,000 to cover one player portion of the team’s budget?

Would this new fee structure be about making up losses, say, because the teams cannot bring in spectators in sufficient numbers? Is some of the money going to billet families who feed and house out-of-town players? Or, is the team paying more to the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) and passing on increased costs to players (read: parents). If so, what is the OHA doing with the extra dough?

And what of the players whose parents simply cannot afford to spend thousands for another year (or up to four years) of hockey? Is this the age that we want players dropping out, lost, and looking for something to occupy them in their downtime?

For years I prattled on about the lack of transparency in our local hockey team’s executive committee.

I felt that our organization ought to be forthcoming about the expenses, that parents ought to be given a peek at the books. Our team budget was circulated among parents. There was an accounting of expenditures and a season-end reconciliation. Why couldn’t the organization do the same? I feel the same about the reported price tag for junior A hockey.

In short, I want to know how my money is being spent. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

 

 — Editorial Staff

Editor’s Note: InsideHalton.com ran a story about pay-to-play “OJHL teams introducing pay-to-play model next season. Oakville Blades likely to charge $3-4K, GM says.” (May 15, 2103)

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