Western Canada Cup dropped due to finances
The Western Canada Cup is over. Not just for this year, but likely forever.
The tournament was created five years ago to pit the four champions of Western Canadian junior A hockey against each other plus the host community to send the top two teams on to the Canadian Junior Hockey League championship RBC Cup.
After Alberta Junior Hockey League champion Brooks Bandits beat the host Penticton Vees in this year’s final, the tournament was shelved due to a lack of financial viability.
A replacement tournament or format has not been determined to decide Western Canada’s RBC Cup participants.
The WCC replaced the Doyle Cup, competed for by the AJHL and B.C. Hockey League champs, and the Avanet Cup which decided the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and Manitoba Junior Hockey League entrant.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t making enough money,” said AJHL commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk. “You looked at previous scenarios, whether it was the Doyle Cup or the Avanet Cup, there was the opportunity there for our individual teams to make more revenue, which it did.”
The WCC started in 2013 in Nanaimo, B.C., and was won by the Surrey Eagles. The tournament originally came into being as a way to simplify the post-season structure for Canadian junior A hockey and to create an event like the Fred Page Cup — which pits the champions of the Quebec, Maritime and Central Canada leagues against each other for a RBC berth.
However, Bartoshyk said the profit margins just were not there to make the effort of hosting worthwhile.
The WCC was saddled with extra expenses that other tournaments like the RBC Cup did not face, like covering transportation costs for all teams. While this left the tournament organizers the flexibility to sign up more local sponsors, the end result was still a mostly empty building, except for games the host team played in.
The final tournament in Penticton drew 28,038 fans for the nine-day tournament with the highest attendance being for a game between the host Vees and the Battleford North Stars at 3,021.
“The majority of the costs were covered by the hosts, so there was a lot more responsibility on the host,” said Bartoshyk, adding it was a taxing event on host teams for everything from recruiting to their volunteer base. “There are multiple factors that weighed on the team and the community for the next year as well.”
Bartoshyk does say it was a worthwhile attempt to bring the four Western leagues together and to try something different, and in that respect the WCC was a success.
Camrose Kodiaks general manager and head coach Boris Rybalka made clear he would welcome the return of the Doyle Cup. The Kodiaks have won the Doyle Cup five times to hold the title as B.C./Alberta champion, the last time coming in 2009.
“We love the Doyle Cup,” said Rybalka. “It’s a thing we know and we were successful when the Doyle Cup was around.
“It’s sad to see the Western Canada Cup go, but whatever is best for junior A hockey and best for hockey is what I am going to support and what we are going to support as an organization.”
Junior A hockey has been hit hard with financial issues over the last number of years. Most teams have seen a substantial drop in attendance and even some of the more successful teams like the Whitecourt Wolverines drew just 449 fans a game despite making it to the league final. The Kodiaks have had a drop in attendance in each of the last four season, falling from 1,440 in 2012-13 to 1,051 this past season, according to hockeydb.com, a website that tracks statistics and all things hockey.
The problem is not just an AJHL issue, teams across the CJHL have struggled financially for a number of years. In most cases, they hope to break even, a few make a bit of money, but the majority are in the red.
The problem has grown from a rise in costs for equipment, transportation and arena rentals, coupled with a struggling economy which has hurt sponsorship dollars, and a struggle to attract the entertainment dollar with more options than ever before.
“We have to recognize that times are tough and people are busy, but we have to give them a reason to come to the rink and feel proud of their organization and feel proud about our league,” said Bartoshyk.
“There’s some tough questions and tough conversations that we have to have as a league to understand where we are going, but I believe in our product and believe in our communities … It’s going to push us to become a better league.”
The AJHL commissioner does say, however, contraction is not on the table yet, despite the struggles of certain teams.
“When teams do have issues, as a group we come together and examine those issues, whether it’s a potential change in ownership or a restructure,” said Bartoshyk. “We’re committed to examining those issues and understanding where those individual communities are at and how they can maintain their status in this league.”
Rybalka added to that saying the teams are all about sharing ideas to help each other out, it is no longer an every team for itself league. They are all in the same fight and if teams are having success with certain initiatives or business practices, they make sure the other teams are aware.
“We go through everything,” said Rybalka. “I give a lot of credit to all of the governors and gas and coaches, yeah it’s a business, and everyone wants to win, but if you don’t have teams you don’t get your opportunity to win.”
The AJHL is holding their annual general meeting on May 27 in Red Deer.