IceDogs tightening their belts
It has been anything but a normal off-season for the Niagara IceDogs.
Since the Ontario Hockey League cancelled the 2019/20 season in March, the IceDogs have been flying by the seat of their pants on the business side of the operation, attempting to figure out the best course of action during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s tough, it’s something none of us have ever been through,” IceDogs owner Bill Burke said.
Burke is meeting daily with wife and co-owner Denise Burke and team controller Tracey Findlay going over budgets.
“We do whatever we can do to streamline things,” Bill Burke said.
Bill Burke indicated the IceDogs normally operate on revenue between $3.5-$4 million per year, depending on playoffs, and that expenses are generally between $3.4-$3.5 million.
“There are so many things we’ve tightened up on. We’re just trying to get the numbers down to $3.1, $3.2 (million), something like that,” he said. “We feel revenue is going to take a hit so we’ve got to get our expenses down.
“For the business side, it’s driving down numbers and working out ways to try and do things better and be more efficient, staff and staff costs, trying to get our number down.”
The IceDogs laid off their entire staff of 17 full-time workers a couple of weeks after the season was cancelled.
With the start of the 2020/21 season still not 100 per cent sure, Bill Burke indicated the organization has not asked season ticket holders to renew their seats at this time.
“We consciously waited,” he said. “Everyone’s finances are too fragile and we don’t want to be bugging someone and getting a hard no.
“There is zero coming in, a little bit from our retail store. We don’t want to bug anyone till everyone feels they have their job back and maybe made up for some of the lost money.”
Ticket sales account for about two-thirds of total revenue while corporate partnerships make up the bulk of the remaining one-third of revenue. The team also receives $60,000 per season from the Canadian Hockey League’s TV deal with Sportsnet, Burke said.
In the letter sent to season ticket holders, the IceDogs indicated they hope to start the season by the end of September or by the Canadian Thanksgiving. The Memorial Cup is being pushed back two weeks so there is some flexibility. Burke said there has also been talk of weighing the second half of the season with more games than the first half so people can get used to going back to the arenas.
“There’s no come back and put masks on and sit six feet apart,” he said. “Until there’s some kind of treatment, that would be the first step towards getting people feeling better about going into bigger events, or a vaccine.
“This thing blew up in March and it’s two months later and a lot has changed. There’s a lot of research by some bright, bright scientists and doctors working on a vaccine and you hope in the next two months there is something we can look forward to.”
Bill Burke said playing without fans is out of the question.
“We don’t want to ask for any money although we have absolutely none. It’s horrific, for sure, but the problem is coming back to empty stadiums.
“We go from probably $31,000-$32,000 a month when no one is there in fixed costs and taxes, and as soon as everyone is back it’s $275,000-$280,000 a month, and with no fans, we’ll all run out of money real quick.”
Despite the uncertainty, Bill Burke said he has no plans to sell the team.
“No, it never crosses our mind. We’re all in to win this thing,” he said.
That doesn’t mean, however, there hasn’t been interest in the franchise.
“You’d be amazed at how many people are always interested in getting a good franchise and a good base of support like we have here in Niagara,” he said. “We’ve got great support, great fans, a great base but we’ve worked so hard to get to where we are — we’ve gone through the lumps of last year and I can’t wait to get started whenever that is — because we’ve got some great days ahead and everyone is working so hard to be successful.”
Ice cubes: Assistant coach Mark Mancari and will not return next season. “Unfortunately Niagara and I have mutually agreed that I will not be returning next season, as the commute from London to Niagara everyday became a challenge,” Mancari said. “I would like to thank the Niagara IceDogs organization for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the coaching staff. I would like to thank the coaching staff, training staff and all the players for their hard work and dedication all year. A lot of friendships have been made and I will cherish them.”
BPSN and the COVID-19 pandemic
Like all small businesses dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, BPSN is not sure what the business landscape will look like when things return to normal. Our website is financed primarily through advertising revenues and partnership agreements with many local sports and educational organizations in Niagara. Our goal is to continue providing our readers with the extensive local sports coverage you have come to expect from our site. Since our inception, we have written more than 2,800 stories on our local athletes and teams. Many of our readers have given us one-time donations or send us monthly contributions to help offset our costs. We would be eternally grateful if others would consider doing the same by using the Support Us button located on the right-hand side of our home page below the mosaic.
Thank you for your continued support.
Bill and Bernie.