FOR THE 2013-14 JUNIOR A (TIER II) HOCKEY season in the Greater Toronto Area, players (read: parents, parents/players) would be pay a percentage of fees, a story we wrote about, in September 2013.
There was much chatter about it then with the general opinion of parents that owners ought to be footing the bill. After all, they reasoned, most owners, if not all, have sons (or relatives) on the team, and that player is too often an average/less-than-average player, and the coach is going to give that player more ice time, so why shouldn’t they pay the bills? Owners complained that ticket sales were flat. This was not a profitable business they claimed. The old model no longer worked. Critics claimed this would kill the league.
With so many parents used to paying $3,000 – $5,000, per year, in the (AAA) minor hockey years that precede Junior A, owners expect that parents can and willing to budget for it, and/or asking their 17, 18, 19 year-olds to pitch in.
At OHL games, though, we noticed low attendance, too, though not in all markets. Some teams regularly fill their stadiums. When one of our kids played Junior C, home game attendance hovered around 225–270, whereas other markets barely made it over the 100 mark. It continued to amaze us that so many local fans turned out because those of us who live in the GTA live close to local Junior A team home arenas and have not been to a single game. In too many markets, Junior teams do not have more than a handful of local fans and parents/relatives sitting in the stands.
Without much analysis, it was easy to see things from an owner’s perspective. When home games attendance is around 200, gate fees of $10 do not cover a full season of transportation, post-game meals, and equipment costs. Food expenses alone must run cost a pretty penny; in junior leagues pizza is served on the bus after games, major junior players get catered meals.
On one hand they want a new business model, on the other hand, they stick with an aging expectation of fans. They have taken their attendance for granted, failing to compete with the other forms of entertainment that grab — and hold — our attention.
Pay-per-view TV, Netflix, HBO, and social media — Facebook, Twitter — and any number of apps we download to our smartphones and iPads. These days, we adults have little interest in attending movies shown in theatres, much less a Saturday night (or Sunday afternoon!) hockey games in cold arenas.
Each hockey season brings snowy roads and cold winter nights; through the week, and weekends, parents are busy driving their kids to minor hockey games and practices and hosting fundraisers. The last thing they want to do is spend another minute in an arena. Weekends are filled with errands, squeezing in whatever social event they can. Where I live, daily work commutes are 30-60 minutes. One way. We are tired. We just want to stay home, hunker down, and relax.
Of course, many hockey fans have already spent Saturday and/or Sunday at the arena with their hockey-playing kids.
If we want to catch a game, we can watch Junior A real-time, streaming stats on Poinstreak. Cogeco broadcasts OHL games, which are also live-streamed, but it is so much better to watch a sport in-person. There’s too much simultaneously happening on the ice that TV cameras cannot capture it all. You must be there to see appreciate it. Watching a game in an arena surrounded by fans makes is a satisfying experience. Moreso that watching it on TV, or a laptop.
Hockey markets are saturated, fan base is dwindling, and a lack of marketing strategy by these business owners shows us their level of understanding of the business of hockey.
Asking players to cover their own expenses simply deflects our attention.
— Editorial Staff