Cougars situation far from rosy, but team says no to relocation

Alistair McInnis

sports@pgfreepress.com

 

The Prince George Cougars intend to stay put and try operating their business here.

That was a message made clear by the team’s vice president Brandi Brodsky on Monday. There’s been a rumour circulating that the Cougars owner, Brodsky’s father Rick, has been approached by Chilliwack Bruins minority owner Moray Keith to sell him the team to operate the franchise in Chilliwack. With a deal reportedly in place which would see the Bruins relocate to Victoria under new ownership, Keith has been rumoured to be seeking a money-losing Western Hockey League franchise.

“Of course in the past we’ve been approached with offers to purchase the team,” Brodsky said. “There was a specific rumour that one specific person had just offered to buy the team from us, and that never happened. There’s still a team in Chilliwack and we’re not allowed to comment on that.”

Brodsky noted that they’ve been warned by the league that they’ll receive a fine if they discuss the situation surrounding the Bruins to media.

That being noted, Cougars management has stressed the need for attendance and corporate support to rise in order to survive in Prince George.

“We’ve been losing money the last few years, large amounts, and we just can’t continue to have that happen,” Brodsky said.

This past season, they continued to struggle with attendance at CN Centre despite two factors they hoped would generate more support – a stronger on-ice product and their interest in holding the 2013 Memorial Cup.

The Cougars iced a significantly more competitive squad than the team which finished last in the Canadian Hockey League the previous year.  A regular-season record of 33 wins, 35 losses, two overtime setbacks and two shootout defeats (33-35-2-2) marked a 42-point improvement from the 2009-10 campaign. They finished seventh in the 10-team Western Conference and were swept in the best-of-seven opening round by the Kelowna Rockets. But they were first place in the B.C. Division well into the season, leading the five-team standings on Jan. 2 with a 20-15-2-1 mark.

Attendance didn’t reflect the team’s improvement in the standings. Their average of 2,207 per game might’ve marked their first improvement in the category from the previous year since the 1998-99 season, but it wasn’t a significant increase, as the 2009-10 average was 2,164. By contrast, the 1998-99 average was 5,825.

Even playoff hockey wasn’t a hot-ticket item, despite team team entering the postseason with four wins in its previous five games. The Cougars’ playoff dates against the Rockets, weekday games on March 29 and 30, drew a total of 4,821 spectators. CN Centre capacity for a WHL game is 5,995.

A similar trend has come in the form of advertising and corporate spending.

“We have some great loyal sponsors. But where we’re lacking is a lot of the big corporate dollars that we have had in the past,” Brodsky said. “We’ve got a lot of smaller accounts in and around town, some smaller businesses, that’s sort of the meat and potatoes of our advertising. But in order to get the dollars up there, you really need some of the big corporate money and we just don’t have that right now.”

During a 2013 Memorial Cup bid meeting on Feb. 23, the Cougars stressed the need for their season-ticket base to rise by at least 1,000 for their application to get considered. Brodsky said she’s witnessed no significant change.

The winning team will be announced on Oct. 15. Other franchises which publicly announced their interest in hosting the 2013 tournament are the Saskatoon Blades, Red Deer Rebels, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Kelowna Rockets.

With the team into the offseason, the Cougars have been having a lot of internal discussions. Brodsky said they’ve been reviewing their position, and talking about ways they can increase revenue for the 2011-12 campaign.

“(Season ticket sales) have just been slow,” Brodsky said. “There hasn’t been any real urgency that we’ve noticed unfortunately.”

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