Back in the day, when the local WHL franchise was owned by the shareholders of the Kamloops Blazers Sports Society, folks would gather for an annual general meeting. Reports would be given, questions might be asked, and a financial statement would be handed out.
For the year ended May 31, 2007, for example, the KBSS released an annual statement showing a profit of $261,583.
A few months later, society shareholders voted to sell the franchise to River City Hockey, a group comprising majority owner Tom Gaglardi and minority owners Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor.
Because the Blazers now are privately owned, we aren’t privy to financial statements.
But, if we can believe what we read, it seems things aren’t going so well, at least not in the business department.
In an interview this week with Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe, Recchi touched mostly on the NHL lockout, no doubt angering most, if not all, of his former NHLPA brethren in the process. But he also made reference to the Blazers’ finances.
“My advice is that the longer it goes, the worse (the offer) is going to get (for the players),” offered Recchi, 44, who retired as an active player after the 2010-11 season. “Hey, I’m an owner, too, so I see both sides. We lose money on our team, and obviously that’s not the same, the money’s not nearly as significant as in the NHL, but the business dynamics are similar. We’ve lost money every year we’ve owned it.”
That is an interesting statement simply because in their first foray into hockey ownership, this group blew up a team that had won 40 games, finished second in the B.C. Division and was a Ray Macias broken wrist away from at least the second round of playoffs.
It was all downhill from there, at least for the next four seasons, with things bottoming out in 2010-11 when the team missed the playoffs after a winter full of embarrassing disciplinary miscues.
Under the direction of head coach Guy Charron and associate coach Dave Hunchak, the Blazers turned things around last season when they were able to put some thrills back into Interior Savings Centre, especially in a memorable second-round, seven-game loss to the Portland Winterhawks.
The success has continued this season, with the team having run off a franchise-record 14-game winning streak before being slapped in the face by some adversity that now has resulted in five losses in six games.
Interestingly, though, the fans who packed the arena a dozen or more years ago have been slow to return. When 5,508 fans showed up for an 8-1 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings on Oct. 26 — it was Breast Cancer Awareness night — it was the first sellout under present ownership that wasn’t part of a rain-check promotion.
Winning, at least to this point, hasn’t proven much of a balm. Attendance is up about 1,000 per game over last season, but it’s been slow going. The disconnect between organization and fans, it seems, is so wide that winning alone hasn’t been able to close it, at least not yet.
When this group was working towards purchasing the club, and again after shareholders had approved a sale, Gaglardi stated that one of the group’s first moves would be to hire a team president. This would be a person who would live in Kamloops, would be familiar with the community and would oversee the entire organization.
That never did happen. Perhaps it should have.
It’s worth noting that in the process leading up to the purchase of the Blazers, the following paragraph appeared on River City Hockey’s website:
“The four NHLers and business partner are all financially secure and have many different investment opportunities. Their primary reason to invest in the franchise is not motivated by money. Instead, they are motivated by a desire to rebuild their former team, the Kamloops Blazers, so that it may provide a very successful hockey experience to young players — and be a source of pride for the community of Kamloops.”
So perhaps showing a profit isn’t the be-all and end-all for this group.
Gaglardi, of course, is a very wealthy man. Heck, he bought the NHL’s Dallas Stars a year ago for what practically amounted to chump change.
According to hockeyzoneplus.com, Recchi made US$50,943,000 during his NHL career. Sydor, now an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild, earned $31,715,000. Iginla and Doan, both of whom are still active players, have brought in $69,025,000 and $41,294,000, respectively.
In other words, no tag days are needed, not even if, as Recchi claims, their WHL franchise continues to lose money.
Still, it’s hard to fathom how a WHL franchise that drew 150,419 fans to 36 regular-season games last season can lose money. From the outside, it appears that this ownership group hasn’t invested a lot of money in its front-office operation and we all know that labour costs in the WHL are minimal.
Of course, the attendance figure from last season is down 21,929 from 2006-07 which, it seems, is the last time this franchise showed a one-season profit.
Perhaps Murray Owen and Co. did know what they were doing back in the day.
(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org, gdrinnan.blogspot.com and twitter.com/gdrinnan.)
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