The city is in danger of losing its Alberni Valley Bulldogs if the B.C. Hockey League team doesn’t improve its financial position this year, Bulldogs’ business manager Lucas Banton said.
The team owes the city $46,000 in unpaid ice rental, and Port Alberni city councillors are considering a request to shave the team’s ice rental fees in half in advance of next hockey season.
The plan will help the team balance its books, create certainty and show value to potential sponsors, Banton said.
There is a sense of urgency this year because the longer the team loses money the higher the risk is of insolvency, he said.
“Are we in danger of losing the team? Potentially, yes,” he said. “We’re working out way out of that danger but we’re not there yet. We need to move faster.”
The Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society bought the team in 2012 for $600,000. The society joined the ranks of the Merritt Centennials, Prince George Spruce Kings, Trail Smoke Eaters and Powell River Kings as teams run under community ownership models.
But the model hasn’t gained traction in Alberni yet. A viable financial plan was a key selling point with the BCHL when the PAJHS bought the team.
A request to study the Bulldogs’ financial report was denied.
“It’s not in the best interests of the team to disclose our financial position,” Banton said. “We’d be at a competitive disadvantage if teams we compete against know our finances intimately.”
According to the BCHL, teams, regardless of their ownership structure or situation, are not required to disclose financial statements.
Under the BC Societies Act, only members of a society have the right to request and see financial reports, a Service BC official said.
Banton said that the team has moved to reduce costs. The team is a year behind paying its ice fee payment to the city, he said. But it is requesting a 50 per cent reduction in the rate.
“It’s too dangerous to lose money. It adds debt to the balance sheet and it’s too risky to have that.”
The community model has merit if it is given time to grow out, Banton said.
“Societies can access grants that a private ownership can’t. And there is a deeper sense of connection to the community in large part because the team’s profits stay in the community,” he said.
“But it’s important to keep this in perspective: businesses can take up to five years to turn around. It’s only been two years here.”
The PAJHS required the assent of the BCHL board of governors before it took possession of the team. When asked if the BCHL could order that a team be sold, BCHL communications spokesperson Brent Mutis said “the BCHL is directed by its board of governors, following regulations and bylaws which include ownership issues. However, these regulations and bylaws are private within the league.”
Banton said he doesn’t foresee a scenario where a new owner comes in to take over the team—therefore, it’s make or break for the PAJHS. “It would take three to five years to make a profit, or there would be huge support for something new,” Banton said. “A new owner may be reluctant to keep the team in the community.”
The team has also grappled with the turnaround of business managers—three since 2012. But they might have found a keeper in Banton. A business analyst by trade, he works with governments and businesses and specializes in business turnarounds.
“We’ve fixed 80 per cent of the problems we were facing when I came in,” Banton said. “Things aren’t getting worse, they’re getting better.”