The Grande Prairie Storm is operating on a week-to-week budget. Not only is the Alberta Junior Hockey League team struggling for wins, attendance and sponsorships are also down.
In an attempt to stay afloat, members have launched a #SaveOurStorm campaign. Using social media – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – the team is hoping to boost attendance, its finances and overall support.
“We decided that, as an organization, we needed to essentially start an aggressive financial campaign that we’ve done under the #SaveOurStorm, the SOS campaign,” said Chris Luhdala, president of the Grande Prairie Storm.
The team, which once set a Canadian Junior Hockey League record for attendance in 2006 with 74,000, is on track for 44,000 less sales this season. Over the same period, sponsorships have dropped to almost $400,000 per year.
“Over the last six years essentially, we’ve struggled to maintain the team at a break-even point,” Luhdala explained. “It’s a community-run team, a profit was never an issue.”
“With costs rising, and the performance on the ice being a little bit off, we’ve slowly declined over the last six years.”
Last year, the team lost quite a bit of money. Luhdala said community members and those on the board stepped up to cover the loss.
But, Alberta’s current financial situation has thrown another wrench in the team’s recovery plans.
“This year, with the economy turn…We had a fairly good plan going in to hopefully break even and stabilize, but we came up quite short in our sponsorship and attendance so far.
“It was time to just let the community know that the team doesn’t exist without their support.”
He said the response to the SOS campaign has been mostly positive.
“We have had quite a few community members, business people reach out and offer their help and support.”
It’s also set up a website for donations.
The Grande Prairie team is not alone.
“There are AJHL teams experiencing financial difficulties due to the economy and other varying factors,” Charla Flett, vice president of communications for the AJHL, explained.
The Calgary Mustangs have been experiencing difficulties for years because of the city’s crowded sports landscape and the current business model.
“Nothing really changes because our financial situation doesn’t change. We have a couple of really dedicated individuals on the board and it’s a daily struggle,” said Jeff Richards, Calgary Mustangs general manager and head coach.
“We start off with less and have to compete with and accomplish just as much.”
Other rural AJHL teams like the Brooks Bandits and Camrose Kodiaks have sellout crowds that attract big sponsors that will provide more funding.
Flett said at the halfway point of the season (December 2015), eight AJHL teams were down in attendance compared to the previous season, while eight teams had experienced a growth in attendance.
The Storm play on Friday. Then, on Jan. 22, they’ll face off against the Canmore Eagles.
With files from Lisa MacGregor, Global News
© 2016 Shaw Media