Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scoring chance wasted: Province would have recouped AHL investment

c/o Robin Short @ The Telegram


Had St. John’s somehow managed to land the 2013 world women’s hockey championship, a 10- or 12-day tournament, the provincial government was prepared to prop up the local organizing committee with a $200,000 shot in the arm.

Yet the folks on Confederation Hill have snubbed their noses at $500,000 for an American Hockey League team in St. John’s, a move that may scuttle a proposal that would see the Manitoba Moose relocate to the capital city next fall.

For the record, the movers and shakers connected with the Moose-to-St. John’s deal maintain there is no agreement in place. The Telegram has learned it’s signed, sealed and, well, not quite delivered.

The holdup is this little thing going on in Winnipeg, where the imminent NHL transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to Manitoba has yet to be announced.

Once that happens, the AHL’s Moose will be on their way to St. John’s where Danny Williams will be paying the relocation fee, a guaranteed amount to Mark Chipman’s True North Sports and Entertainment, who retain ownership of the team for the time being, and absorbing any losses the new St. John’s franchise might incur.

There were a few hurdles to overcome here in St. John’s. One was a lease agreement with Mile One Centre, but given St. John’s Sports and Entertainment’s yearning for an anchor tenant — all the better
it’s the AHL — that hasn’t provided much of an obstacle.

Even SJSE will admit, privately, this is the city’s best — and perhaps only — chance at the AHL again.
Given the emerging cost of travel, and the fact the new St. John’s team will be on the hook subsidizing incoming AHL teams, just like the early years of the St. John’s Maple Leafs, some provincial money will be required.

Hurdle? Obstacle? Try Mount Kilimanjaro.

But should we be surprised? Not really. This has nothing to do with a lousy 500 grand that could be dubbed a subsidy, grant, economic development or whatever. It has nothing to do with the fact the government will get its money back, and then some (some at City Hall suggest a $10-million economic spinoff from an AHL team isn’t out of the question).

Unlike the $160,000 the provincial government gave to something called the Atlantic Studios Co-operative Wednesday. A co-op that, get this, has one permanent employee, apparently.

No, this has everything to do with Kathy Dunderdale, the current premier, and the ongoing rift with Danny Williams, the former premier.

Five hundred thousand dollars, or $500. Doesn’t matter. That the request didn’t even reach cabinet speaks volumes.

Funny, but is there anyone out there who really, truly believes Dunderdale would be plunked in the premier’s chair if not for Williams?

Anyway, back to the point: selling the idea of handing public money over to pro sports has always been a dicey proposition.

But only it were it that simple.

The reality is government was getting a return on this investment, directly through the tax on AHL ticket sales, and indirectly through the spinoff generated by the team.

There is a host of examples for the economic spinoff that could be derived from the American Hockey League:
• a payroll in the $2 million to $3 million range for the new St. John’s team
• increased hotel room occupancies during winter, the low season in the industry
• more staff for Mile One, meaning more money circulating through the community
• out-of-town visitors dropping good money in the city each weekend
• a boost to a downtown that’s not exactly bursting at the seams

And we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to money generated.

Money, by the way, from which the province gets a cut.

But this makes no difference to the crowd who will cry ‘No dough for hockey!’ regardless of the positive arguments. No difference that a game or two on CBC’s Sunday afternoon AHL broadcasts, viewed nation-wide, would cost 10 times the price of those provincial government ads.

No, this is all about Danny Millions. He’s good for it, right?

And on the eighth floor of Confederation Building, one can’t help think an attitude of one-upmanship resonates through the corridors.

Can there be any other plausible explanation? With ‘Republic of Doyle’ getting a million and a half dollars? Countless grants going to local entertainers, professionals in their own right?

With the province as financially well-off today as its ever been, and that coming on Williams’s watch, ironically enough?

Noone really knows if this deal is dead, but you can be sure Williams is very pissed. He will either dig in his heals, and come up with the money. Or he’ll walk, and one close associate of Williams said Wednesday afternoon he wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter.

Either way, time is of the essence, as they say.

Any day now, and the Atlanta-to-Winnipeg deal will be announced. Shortly afterwards, Chipman and True North Sports will want an answer from St. John’s.

If it’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks’, Mile One may as well pack up the glass and boards, strip down the ice plant and sell the works of it.

And then maybe make a sound stage of the building.

Imagine how many government grants that would generate?

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