The team announced Monday morning that they have started a search for ownership partners that will solidify the long-term success of the franchise in Port Alberni.
“The Bulldogs have been run by a committed group of local individuals who were determined to keep BCHL hockey in the Alberni Valley,” says PAJHS director Darren Deluca.
“The reality is that Junior A hockey is a business and we feel the time is right to find an ownership partner who shares our interest in the success of the team and the significant role it plays in our community.”
The Bulldogs franchise relocated to Port Alberni from Burnaby in 2002 and quickly became ingrained as an important part of the city’s sporting community. The team was sold in 2012 to the Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society, which has owned and operated the team for the past seven seasons.
The Bulldogs announced at their last AGM that they were going to seek an investment partner. “We’ve done it discreetly up to this point, asking around in areas we knew about. We weren’t really successful with getting the word out so we thought we’re going to have to use a more public process,” Deluca said.
The news was released across North America on Monday, and Deluca said he already had an inquiry within half an hour of the sale being made public.
The team is healthy financially, “as good as any team in the league,” he said. “There’s an ongoing requirement for us to continuously do fundraising in gaming and lottery to support the team.”
Many teams in the league must raise funds above and beyond their operating costs; because the Bulldogs operate as a society, they are eligible for gaming funds, Deluca explained.
The hockey team has been on time with their payments to the City of Port Alberni, which owns the AV Multiplex where the team plays. The Bulldogs still owe the city $37,000 from past debt, and have been repaying it on schedule, said Willa Thorpe, city director of parks, recreation and heritage.
“Their monthly payments for this season are all paid up. They’re bang on with their repayment schedule,” she said.
If no buyer materializes before the 2019-20 season begins, the society will continue to operate the team as usual. There is no threat of the team closing if they don’t find a buyer, Deluca said. “We will carry on, business as usual.”
“We have tremendous fans and sponsors that really set the Bulldogs organization apart,” says Deluca. “The relationship with local government is strong and there is a lot of money being invested in the economic development of our region. And anyone who has been inside the Alberni Valley Multiplex for a big game knows that this is a great hockey town. We’re very confident that potential partners will see all the reasons why the Bulldogs can thrive on and off the ice over the long term in Port Alberni.”
BCHL franchises sell at a wide range of values and Alberni Valley’s is going to be driven by the market, he noted.
Any potential buyers are vetted by the B.C. Hockey League board of governors, spokesperson Brent Mutis said. Full background checks are done on potential investors as a matter of course.
“There’s always going to be a process to make sure the (people) who want to buy a franchise are who they say they are…that’s a logical step to go through as far as franchising,” Mutis said.
The BCHL board of governors has a franchise committee for that purpose, he added.
The Bulldogs announced the sale now, as opposed to the end of the season, because negotiations can take a while, Deluca explained.
“It can be quite a long process, up to six months. We want to make sure when we’re going into next season…everything is solid and in place by then.”
They hope to attract a hockey-minded buyer, he said. “With an investment partner, generally they bring more to the table than just a chequebook. They come from the hockey world, they have a lot of contacts in the hockey world. In Trail, they put a significant amount of money both into the team and the facility.
“We’re hoping we can find an investor along the same lines.”
The team boasts more than 700 season ticket holders, a team-friendly arena lease and “tremendous local corporate sponsorship support.”
“The Alberni Valley Bulldogs are an essential part of our local community,” City of Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said in a statement.
“In addition to providing great entertainment to hockey fans in Port Alberni, the team contributes to numerous projects and events that benefit our citizens. We look forward to working with anyone whose goal is to ensure the long-term strength and stability of the Bulldogs organization in the Alberni Valley.”