BCHL helps teams combat COVID-19 challenges

BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb was a guest on the Sekeres and Price Afternoon Show on TSN 1040 in Vancouver on Tuesday afternoon. During the interview, Hebb shed some light on how the league and its 17 franchises are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says the league and teams are all taking a wait-and-see approach at this point. “We’re all waiting on the curve to flatten and hopefully get ourselves a normal season in September. It’s been tough, you lose the playoff revenue, you lose the (spring) camp revenue and it’s difficult for our teams to be able to make ends meet.”

Hebb emphasized that the league office and its Board of Governors were proactive when Hockey Canada shut down the remainder of the  2019-20 season on March 12. “We went into hurry-up mode at the league office and put together a COVID-19 action plan within a week of the season getting cancelled and got our Board together. It was really about us trying to figure out ways to pull the resources that we have together.”

Part of the plan included propping up the teams with some additional funding. “There was some contingency in the league budget and we wrote the teams some cheques just to kind of take the sting out of it. In the meantime, we’ve just been treading water and waiting for hopefully some sort of change that allows us to count on there being a season next year.”

Price asked Hebb whether the amount the teams got was substantial enough to add some stability during an off-season that is unlike any other. “The cheques that we wrote to our teams aren’t going to cover the losses in the playoffs and the spring camp revenue that they’ve foregone. It was really just ‘Let’s not have this money sitting in the bank when our teams really need it’.”

With 16 of 17 BCHL teams making the playoffs this season, each franchise got some additional revenue from playoff games, but it couldn’t have been much as only the first round was completed. Chilliwack played four home games, while Cowichan Valley, Penticton, Surrey, and Wenatchee each had three home playoff dates. The other eleven playoff teams only received the gate from two home playoff games.

The lowest attendance in the first round was game three between Victoria and Salmon Arm. The Grizzlies drew 564 fans to The Q Centre for that game on March 2. Although their playoff ticket prices aren’t available online anymore, a regular season adult single game ticket is $13. Taking that ticket price as a minimum with the lowest attendance of the playoffs, that game alone brought in $7,332.

The highest attendance in the playoffs was game two of the Penticton-West Kelowna series. It drew 3,118 fans to the South Okanagan Events Centre. Adult single game playoff tickets for the Vees were $16 each, which means that game brought in just under $50,000.

“It’s always about bums in seats for a league like ours. There’s also sponsorship revenue and both of those streams of revenue are completely dead. We have sponsors in a wait-and-see mode and we have potential ticket holders in a wait-and-see mode and we don’t blame them,” Hebb explained to Sekeres and Price. “They’ve been so supportive and we’ve got to wait until we can tell them there’s going to be a season and I think that will bring everybody back.”

Hockey Canada’s cancellation of all activities related to the sport put a halt to the BC Spring Hockey League, which featured U16 and U18 teams affiliated with nine different BCHL franchises, as well as any team’s spring prospect camps. Both the BCSHL and spring camps were significant revenue generators.

Hebb wouldn’t go into specifics when asked about which franchises are on the shakiest ground. “None of them have stepped up and said ‘Look, we’re in a position here where we just can’t play next year’… Do we worry? Yeah. And every week that goes by, it becomes a little tougher for a team to commit to ordering their equipment and buying their jerseys and signing their arena leases. This league isn’t like major junior or the NHL where you’ve got revenue streams that will stick by you. We live on a season by season basis.”

According to Hebb, the league will go to the government to inquire about funding available to tide the teams over until the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates. “Our owners have done an unbelievable job in this league, they’ve never taken a dime of government support and they’ve basically built the finest junior A league in North America. What we’re saying is these are important entities in our communities.”

Sekeres and Price asked Hebb what the BCHL’s process is in approaching the government for help. “We’re just getting our mayors to let the senior levels of government know that the BCHL is an important part of our communities. Our main target will be MLAs. Honestly, we’ve got lots of MLAs that support our franchises, they’ve been great, I’ve seen many of them at our games – they get it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world on its ear, but the BCHL has to try and plan for a 2020-21 season. In hearing Hebb talk about it, the fact that so many are affected by the crisis isn’t lost on the league or its teams.

“Everybody’s hurting right now and we don’t want to come off as bleeding hearts. We just want to be able to put our case forward and based on its merits, have government weigh whether or not there should be some level of support for the league.”