The Lethbridge Hurricanes hockey team is facing a tough financial feat for the upcoming season, the second to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the team’s annual general meeting, held virtually Monday night, shareholders were told that despite missing out on the final three regular season home games and what was looking like a promising WHL playoff run, the Hurricanes nearly broke even for the 2019-2020 season, with a loss of just $1,030.
However the outlook for the upcoming 24-game COVID-friendly season isn’t as optimistic: the Hurricanes are estimating they could lose as much as $1.3 million.
Hurricanes’ business manager Terry Huisman says the club is exploring all options to soften the blow.
“We’re going to tippy-toe through this one for sure, and hope for the best in the end,” Huisman said. “There’s a few different options out there, some are relief funds that are available based on a long-term payback, as well as there’s some loan opportunities with specific banks that have been laid out.”
With no fans anticipated to be in arenas for the season, the Hurricanes will miss out on ticket revenue. Last season, the club generated $1.9 million in ticket sales, and lost out on about $177,000 with the cancellation of the final three home games.
The organization’s budget for the new season includes projected expenses of $1.7 million, with revenue anticipated to be about $383,000.
“When we sat down to do the budget, we waited as long as possible,” Huisman said. “The way we’ve looked at it is: now we have an idea of where we’re going to be going this year as far as games played… and what sort of things we’re going to have in regards to WHL TV or the webcasting that’s going to be available, and what kind of assets we have to sell.”
Huisman added the Hurricanes have options through the league to borrow as much as $1 million, with the low-interest loan to be paid back over 10 years.
“That is looking very promising for us, but it’s something that we’re going to have to look into and make sure it’s a good fit for our hockey club,” he said.
The organization is also hoping to see the province show some support, after the Saskatchewan government committed $600,000 to each of its WHL teams as well as $1 million to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Hurricanes president Doug Paisley said a committee was struck in the spring that’s been working with the government and receiving updates almost every other week.
“I’m confident they are going to step up, but we don’t have any confirmation as of yet,” Paisley said. “The Saskatchewan announcement last week — I’m hoping that will spur and maybe motivate the other provinces to step up and help their clubs as well.”
Paisley said the ask to the province was structured for all junior hockey in Alberta, including both the WHL and Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“Obviously they had success in Saskatchewan,” he said. “I think our government realizes — both at the city level as well as the provincial level — how impactful these teams are to these communities, the economic driving abilities these teams have.”
The Hurricanes virtual AGM also provided some more details on what returning to play will look like for the team.
General manager Peter Anholt said the plan is to carry a smaller roster — 20 or 21 players — to cut costs, and there will be no training camp. All players invited to Lethbridge are expected to play.
“For every player you have in here, there’s a major cost,” Anholt said. “So we’re trying to balance that, and I guess roll the dice a little bit, and some games — on any given game — we might have to play short.”
Anholt said all the Alberta teams that are playing exclusively within the Central Division are determined to play in their own buildings, and a hub situation is not currently being considered.
“That’s not really an option right now, until it has to be an option,” he said.
The GM added that if they do in fact get to play in their home arenas, the plan would be to play games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Anholt also confirmed that playoffs — in a modified form — will happen, to crown a divisional champion.
When asked why the league has decided to go ahead with a season that will mean a significant hit to clubs, Anholt said it’s in the best interest of the league’s future.
“You know there’s always the other side of it, if we don’t do it, what’s our league going to look like coming out the back end,” he said. “I think that’s a big, big concern to us. So this season is all about development for our players, and for our players alone.”
The WHL has not set a firm start date for the 24-game schedule, but once they do, Anholt said teams will have to complete a 28-day pre-season protocol, including 14 total days of isolation for players.