The Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Canmore Eagles have become an endangered species.
The club announced Wednesday (March 30) it needs to raise $100,000 by June 30 or the team will leave Canmore. Two offers have already been received from other communities interested in the team, however, the board of governors, club president Daryl Lockwood and general manager Andrew Milne want to keep the community-owned operation in the Bow Valley.
June 30 is the date of the AJHL’s annual general meeting, and at that time the Eagles’ brass needs to let the league know if it can afford to stay in Canmore.
“If we can’t raise the money, we will have to go to the AJHL AGM and tell them we can’t run a team in Canmore and present to them that they should find a new home for the Canmore Eagles,” Lockwood said.
“This is a community-owned team,” said Milne. “We’re completely funded by our ability to generate revenue through season tickets and sponsorship. The question is, do we want Junior A hockey in Canmore?
“We have a cash flow shortage that needs to be addressed or we won’t be able to operate in Canmore.”
In order to raise the cash, the club is asking for loans from the community between $1,000 and $5,000 each. The Eagles will offer a two per cent annual rate of return on the loans, which will cash out in 2016.
“We will give people the opportunity to lend the club money – no less than a $1,000 and no more than $5,000. We’ll recapitalize that money and put it back into the team,” Lockwood said.
“It’s a call out to the community. We want to make sure AJHL hockey is here 10 years from now, 15, 25 years, and give the kids certainty they can play Junior A hockey in Canmore.”
Currently, the Eagles have accumulated $130,000 in debt over the past 15 years. Season ticket sales have plummeted, dropping from 285 in 2009 to 83 in 2010/2011. The most season tickets the club has sold in a season is 400, however, Lockwood said the team needs an average of 600 people at Eagles games to be comfortable. Last season, the club averaged about 200 people per game.
The Canmore Eagles are a community-run team and rely on sponsorship and ticket sales to support the team. There is no private owner behind the club.
The club also plans to approach Canmore’s Town council to discuss the economic impact of the team and request changes to the Alex Kaleta arena. That will include discussions on heating costs, retail and office space.
“We want to give the Town an idea of what Junior A hockey provides in Canmore, and tell them we want to be here for 25 years. We have a nice, but older, building, but it has to work in the confines of what a Junior A franchise looks like,” Lockwood said.
Lockwood ruled out asking for a 2,000-seat arena similar to those in Okotoks and Camrose.
The pricetag for the team is about $500,000, and communities such as Fort Saskatchewan have closely examined the Eagles in the past. Lockwood would not disclose where the two current offers have come from.
The team costs about $600,000 to operate each year and has only one paid employee – Milne.
The team has had debt pile up over 15 years and that has them in a tough spot. Lockwood said the board of governors takes responsibility for the debt.
“It’s partly our responsibility as the board of directors. We have to show structurally we’re strong, but we’ve made some mistakes along the way,” Lockwood said.
Letting the season ticket base erode has been one of those mistakes.
“We didn’t do as good a job reaching out to season ticket holders. We didn’t go to new season ticket holders and tell them we have some of the best tickets in Canmore,” Milne said.
Those interested in loan agreements are asked to contact Lockwood or call the team office at 403-678-1855 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
“I want nothing more than this team to be raised up by the community and they will have something that makes them really proud,” Lockwood said.