Here we go again.
Another day, another relocation rumour.
The Kootenay Ice is back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons as a report from the Winnipeg Free Press says the team will be announcing a move to Winnipeg next week.
I’ll believe it when I see it.
Over the last five years I’ve heard that the Ice are relocating to Fort McMurray, Wenatchee, Winnipeg, Nanaimo, Lloydminster and Timbuktu.
And yet, here we are.
Don’t get me wrong — the optics for long-term sustainability is not great.
Attendance declined at an average of 2,239 in 2015 to 1,754 two years later. Before that, average attendance was trending downwards from 2008, save for a spike in 2012 following the team’s third WHL championship season.
Average numbers bumped up by almost 700 after new owners Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes bought the team in the 2017 offseason, however, numbers have trickled down from last year.
It’s uncomfortable to stare at a sea of blue seats on certain game nights and think that it’s business as usual.
Other red flags abound.
A campaign to fundraise season tickets from a grassroots ad-hoc committee recently ended and all money returned after organizers vented their frustration at a lack of engagement with Ice ownership.
The Reach Out campaign, headed up by the Kootenay Ice Green Bay Committee —modelling itself after a fan committee in support of the NFL team — had solicited season tickets from local businesses that were donated and distributed to schools and clubs.
For the more conspiracy theory-minded, other circumstantial evidence could include registering winnipegice.ca and winnipegice.com web domain names a day after each other in April 2017. Or recent trade acquisitions that have a Manitoba or Winnipeg connection. Or the fact that there’s no geographic locator on the rebranded jerseys.
Every time relocation rumours flare up, it’s radio silence from the team. And fair enough; there’s no obligation from ownership compelling them to respond to every single anonymously sourced news report out there.
However, the silence is deafening, and one would think that if those rumours were baseless, they’d be vehemently denied.
As confirmed by the WHL on Friday, there is no planned announcement for Monday involving the Kootenay Ice or a rumoured relocation to Winnipeg.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand the sense of making a relocation announcement in the middle of the WHL season in December.
In order to approve a move, the WHL Board of Governors has to have a two-thirds majority from the table, but the next scheduled meeting isn’t until February next year.
Maybe relocation plans are in the works; I would not be surprised if has been explored.
The team has had a wonderful 20 year legacy in Cranbrook with three WHL championships and one Memorial Cup, along with plenty of famous NHL alumni, including Jarret Stoll, Adam Cracknell, Brayden McNabb and Sam Reinhart.
I’d love to see the team remain here for another 20 years, but at the same time, the team also has a bottom line to meet.
And based on attendance figures, one has to wonder if the financial numbers are adding up.
It’s an awkward argument to make, that there isn’t enough ‘fan support’ in Cranbrook. I’d say the opposite, there’s plenty of passionate fan support for the team.
But can that community passion translate into more ticket sales and support at the gate? Would attendance increase if the team started winning more consistently, or snagged a berth into the playoffs?
I don’t know.
The new ownership deserves credit for the way it engaged with the community after the sale of the team and were rewarded with a spike in average attendance for the 2017/18 season.
However, in the face of declining attendance once again, the relocation rumours are bound to fester, at least until the end of the season.
We’ll see what happens after that.