The Chynoweth family has become the lone shareholder of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice.
The family, which previously owned 75.5 per cent of the franchise, has purchased the remaining 24.5 per cent of the club from Rob and Scott Niedermayer, as announced via press release Wednesday morning.
“Now that we own 100 per cent we move forward, nothing changes, it’s no different than in the past,” Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, told The Townsman Wednesday morning. “We move forward from there.
“It’s a business transaction that I felt, in talking to the league, I had to get it out from my perspective… Now people know the Niedermayers don’t own our hockey club.”
Out of respect for the Niedermayer family and his own, Chynoweth declined to comment further on the nature of the transaction.
It’s no secret Chynoweth and his family wants out of the WHL ownership game. Chynoweth has been on the record numerous times stating his family has been trying to sell the franchise since 2011, to no avail.
According to the release, the Chynoweths had been in discussion to sell their shares to the Niedermayers in June 2015, meeting the presented price, only to have the offer declined.
From there, the Niedermayer brothers were part of a locally-based group, including City of Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt, that was interested in purchasing the club from the Chynoweth family back in October and November 2015.
“Unfortunately, nothing came to be of that,” Chynoweth said in February during an interview with The Townsman.
The Townsman reached out to Rob Niedermayer and Mayor Pratt for comment on the circumstance in February, but requests for comment were not returned.
Rob and Scott Niedermayer had been minority owners of the Kootenay Ice since 1998-99, originally part of a group of four local investors who purchased 49 per cent of the club from the late Ed Chynoweth in December 1998.
In September 2001, the Chynoweth family increased its ownership share to 75.5 per cent when the Niedermayers’ partners decided to sell.
With the Niedermayers now out of the picture and the Chynoweth family in complete control of the Kootenay Ice there is at least temporary clarity in regards to the ownership of the franchise.
Chynoweth reiterated the club is committed to Cranbrook for the 2016-17 WHL campaign. As he stated in February, he wishes for the franchise to remain in Cranbrook under new ownership, but isn’t convinced there will be local investors step forward anytime soon.
“Despite ongoing efforts, no other local investors have come forward with an offer to purchase shares in the franchise,” Chynoweth said in the club’s press release.
The 2015-16 season was a battle for the Kootenay Ice, both on the playing surface and off it. Finishing the campaign with a record of 12-53-6-1 and an average nightly attendance of 1,957 (according to WHLstats.ca), the Ice were deep in the WHL’s cellar, finishing last in the league in both categories.
The low attendance numbers have been of great concern, both for ownership and WHL brass, contributing to the team’s murky future in the East Kootenay.
In February, WHL commissioner Ron Robison stated average attendance needed to jump from its present plateau to 2,500 to 2,600 fans per night in order to help stabilize the situation, with gate revenue being one of the biggest financial drivers for major junior clubs.
“[Current ownership] despite declining attendance still remain committed to the market,” Robison told The Townsman in February. “We believe the most important step would be to have local ownership come forward and invest in the franchise to hopefully keep it in this market long-term.
“We rely heavily on local people with influence in the community to bring forward credible investors and yet that has not occurred to date.
“We’re going to continue to work at it to find ways to encourage local investors to come forward. That is certainly our preference. But in the event that doesn’t occur soon, we’re going to have to reevaluate the position moving forward.”
Despite a quality on-ice product that includes three WHL championships (2000, 2002, 2011), a Memorial Cup championship (2002) and a run of 17 consecutive playoff appearances that came to an abrupt end this season, attendance woes have shown no signs of improvement, but rather steady and steep decline.
When the Ice first moved into the 4,264-seat Western Financial Place (2000-01), average nightly attendance was 3,635. In the 15 years since, average nightly attendance has dropped by 46.16 per cent (as of the conclusion of the 2015-16 WHL season).
“Moving forward, this transaction gives clarity to our ownership structure,” Chynoweth said in the team press release. “[It] will hopefully quell the rumours regarding our intent to continue operating the Kootenay Ice as we have since relocating the franchise to Cranbrook in 1998.
“We are looking forward to the 2016-17 season, including having the first-overall selections in the WHL Bantam Draft (May 5) and CHL Import Draft (June 28).”