And so ends Chilliwack’s first flirtation with a Western Hockey League franchise – not with the celebration of a championship win, or even the hopeful expectation of a next season, but with the odour of a relationship gone sour.
The WHL has finally confirmed what few people doubted; that the Chilliwack Bruins are in the process of being sold. Formally, the deal is not yet done. But practically, it looks certain.
The business of hockey clearly is a tough one. The arrival of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat just down the road certainly didn’t help the Bruins’ cause. In 2008-09, the season prior to the Heat’s debut, the Bruins averaged 4,073 fans per game. They suffered a precipitous drop to 3,260 in 2009/10.
The WHL’s confirmation of the Bruins’ sale leaves Chilliwack hockey fans waiting for the other skate to drop.
Indications are that Chilliwack will have a team of some kind. Certainly Bruins minority owner Moray Keith would want that. His Chiefs Development Group holds the 20-year lease on the Prospera Centre. And not only does it make good business sense to have a tenant, it’s part of the lease agreement with the City of Chilliwack.
The Prince George Cougars are struggling with their own attendance woes and was one of the WHL teams rumoured to be heading to Chilliwack, but the team’s vice-president says they are staying put. The Kootenay Ice was another team rumoured as a possibility.
If a WHL team finds its way to Chilliwack this fall, it truly will be “a building year” – not only for the team, but also for the relationships bruised by this awkward and ungainly divorce. Fans would welcome another season of major-junior hockey, but that support will be tempered.
Sports franchises rely on two things: fan support (preferably through season tickets) and corporate support. Both commodities have been challenged.
– Black Press