Lethbridge Hurricanes’ brass addressed shareholders at the club’s 34th annual general meeting on Monday, and despite spring’s disappointing playoff exit still fresh in their minds, they happily reported a net profit of over $282,000.
The 2019 profits are down more than $140,000 from the $422,443 earned in 2018, but that is largely explained by the team’s first-round knockout in the WHL playoffs.
Despite the drop, a third-straight profitable year has still been seen as a success by the club, who as recently as 2015 had the WHL commissioner urge shareholders to consider private ownership, with financial losses topping $1.25 million over the previous five years.
Shareholders rejected that idea and stuck to the current model, which now sees 162 shareholders representing 175 shares.
The turnaround has been largely credited to general manager Peter Anholt, who has iced a team that has made the playoffs in four-straight seasons, including back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s the hockey product,” said Hurricanes president Doug Paisley. “If the hockey product is not competitive — and it’s not always about win, loss… you have to be entertaining.
“Peter (Anholt) ensures that we get an entertaining product to watch, and then Terry (Huisman, GM of business operations) sells the hell out of the tickets.”
The 2019 WHL playoffs were a major topic of discussion at Monday’s meeting. After the Canes went 40-18-5 in the regular season, they dropped a series-deciding Game 7 in Lethbridge — at Nicholas Sheran Arena — to the Calgary Hitmen in the first round.
Where their season ended is still a sore spot for Canes’ brass. After winning the first two games on ENMAX Centre ice, the Canes were displaced from their arena as the 2019 World Men’s Curling Championships occupied the building.
“You know, it does take the wind out of your sails when you work all year to get into the playoffs, and then you’re out of your building,” Anholt said. “That’s a fact.”
Anholt believes he had put together a team that could have made a deeper run.
“Ultimately, I still believe if we were playing in the ENMAX, we would have won the series,” the GM said.
While the issue was contentious at times between the city and the Hurricanes, Paisley believes it ended up strengthening the relationship and aiding in negotiations of the team’s new five-year lease agreement for the ENMAX Centre.
Though they didn’t release details, the club did confirm that they received compensation from the city to make up for the losses in revenue while playing at Nicolas Sheran; which according to the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, who play out of the arena, holds about 1,200 people. In the 2018 WHL playoffs, the Hurricanes averaged 4,316 fans per home game.
“Basically, we got paid what we normally would make in a game here in the ENMAX,” Anholt said. “So financially, we were taken care of.”
In 2018, when the Hurricanes lost to the Swift Current Broncos in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, the club reported playoff revenue of $885,558. The first-round knockout in 2019 netted the Canes $336,397.
But the roughly $549,000-drop in playoff revenue was the only glaring negative in the club’s 2019 financials.
The Hurricanes saw a jump of over $150,000 in regular-season ticket sales, resulting in average attendance increasing five per cent to 3,971. That ties for the second-best all-time attendance for the team.
Season-ticket numbers have also climbed from 2,239 season-ticket holders last season to 2,320 as of Monday morning.
“It’s a testament to the community for their support and getting behind their team,” Paisley said. “And I mean, that’s the thing; if they want this model to work, they have to support it.”
The Hurricanes will begin the 2019-20 WHL season on Friday when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers.