It is a sight seen far too often in recent seasons -- empty seats at Western Financial Place as the Kootenay Ice battle Western Hockey League opponents. Despite long-running on-ice success

It is a sight seen far too often in recent seasons -- empty seats at Western Financial Place as the Kootenay Ice battle Western Hockey League opponents. Despite long-running on-ice success

Robison: Ice future in Cranbrook at critical stage

WHL commissioner Ron Robison says team could face relocation if improved community & corporate support isn't seen by end of 2015-16 season

The future of the Western Hockey League in Cranbrook is on thin ice.

According to WHL commissioner Ron Robison, should attendance woes, financial struggles and corporate support of the Kootenay Ice not improve over the course of the 2015-16 season, the league may be forced to relocate the franchise.

“Our position is that we want to maintain our current markets where our clubs have operated, especially in the case of the Kootenay Ice who have operated in Cranbrook for many years,” Robison said over the phone from the WHL head office in Calgary on Wednesday afternoon. “Our hope is we can find a way to improve the fan support to keep the franchise in Cranbrook.

“But if that doesn’t change, we’ve got to look and explore options. We continue to be very concerned about the low attendance and the challenges that the club faces.

“It’s reached a very critical stage. I think it’s something we’re going to have to determine this year. If things aren’t improving, I don’t believe ownership or the league will be in a position to continue to support the franchise remaining in Cranbrook. It’s a very critical season coming up. We need to see more support in order to get us to a position where we have confidence in the market moving forward, but at this stage, we’re very concerned about the future of the franchise.

“[Cranbrook] has to be a viable market moving forward. We’re concerned right now, under any circumstances. It’s going to be a challenge, regardless of the ownership group.”

Upon relocating to Cranbrook from Edmonton ahead of the 1998-99 WHL season, the Kootenay Ice played its first two campaigns out of the 1,704-seat Memorial Arena before moving into its present-day home — the 4,264-seat Western Financial Place.

According to the Internet Hockey Database (, the inaugural season at Western Financial Place (2000-01) was a success at the gates as a nightly average of 3,635 fans piled into the brand-new building to support the defending WHL champions.

Unfortunately for the franchise, attendance hasn’t been the same since then, declining by approximately 38.4 per cent as of the 2014-15 season.

Numbers at the Western Financial Place gates hit a franchise-low mark of 2,227 during the 2013-14 campaign before improving slightly to 2,239 during 2014-15.

Only the Swift Current Broncos registered lower average attendance (2,162 fans per game) than the Ice during the 2014-15 season.

Despite a quality on-ice product that includes three WHL championships (2000, 2002, 2011), a Memorial Cup championship (2002), 17 consecutive playoff appearances, 16 straight seasons with a regular-season record of .500 or better, the attendance woes have not shown significant signs of improvement.

Robison said the slight bump in average attendance from 2013-14 to 2014-15 isn’t enough.

“We recognize Cranbrook is a small market in relation to other markets,” Robison said. “I think back to when the franchise moved into Cranbrook and the goal and certainly the requirement at that time was to draw a minimum of 2,800 fans. What we see now, is it’s going to have to be something in excess of 3,000 a game. When you look at the attendance this year, that’s certainly a long way from where we need to be.

“We’re a ticket-driven industry. That’s what determines, ultimately, the viability of a franchise in a certain market.”

With that in mind, Robison said the fate of the franchise lies in the hands of people within Cranbrook and its surrounding communities. Without improved fan support and corporate support, the league doesn’t see Cranbrook as a viable market for WHL hockey.

“We have to determine whether the ownership is prepared to continue under these circumstances and that’s a challenge unto itself,” Robison said. “All of our franchises are committed to their current markets provided they can run a viable franchise. That’s been a real challenge for several years. Anytime you have losses sustained by a club over an extended period of time, you have to consider your options.”

Robison said the league works to support its small-market franchises in many ways including monitoring financial performance, assisting with league-wide marketing programs and sponsorship arrangements, communications and broadcast support, as well as a special-events revenue-sharing program.

But those support systems alone aren’t enough to keep a franchise afloat.

“At the end of the day, it just comes down to the local support, from a ticket-sales and sponsorship standpoint, that will ultimately determine the fate of the franchise,” Robison said.

“Our hope would be we can get things turned around. But that will depend largely on the level of support that’s going to be forthcoming. If that doesn’t happen, we may not have any other alternative but to consider relocation.”

Should the fate of the franchise be relocation, Robison said there is no shortage of demand for franchises across western Canada, listing the Lower Mainland, Nanaimo, Winnipeg and “other markets in northern Alberta” as a selection of potential relocation options, should push come to shove.

At the end of the day, the WHL commissioner hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“It’s largely up to the community to step forward and support the team,” Robison said. “The team is prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve the franchise there, but it’s ultimately going to come down to ticket revenue and level of sponsorship to maintain [the franchise in Cranbrook].”

As it stands, the Chynoweth family owns a controlling interest in the Kootenay Ice.

The early bird deadline to purchase Kootenay Ice season tickets came to pass May 29.

Adult season tickets can be purchased for $585, a cost of $16.25 per games (36 games). Walk-up cost for an adult ticket is $23.

Senior (65 plus) season tickets can be purchased for $485, a cost of $13.47 per game, versus walk-up price of $18.

Finally, a season ticket for a child (ages four to 17) can be purchased for $385, or $10.69 per game, versus walk-up cost of $11.

Representatives from the Kootenay Ice were unavailable for comment as of press time Wednesday evening.

Kootenay Ice attendance (Attendance records courtesy

Western Financial Place capacity: 4,264

1998-99: 1,611*1999-00: 1,528*^2000-01: 3,6352001-02: 3,473^2002-03: 3,4402003-04: 2,9262004-05: 3,3702005-06: 3,3092006-07: 3,0392007-08: 2,9632008-09: 3,0712009-10: 2,8072010-11: 2,501^2011-12: 2,8052012-13: 2,4112013-14: 2,2272014-15: 2,239

* = played at Memorial Arena (capacity 1,704)^ = won WHL Championship

Just Posted

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.
Graduation ceremony in the works for MBSS Class of 2021

The Mount Bake Secondary School Class of 2021 will have a graduation… Continue reading

After being forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Wasa Triathlon is being organized for August. Bulletin file photo.
Information released for Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon scheduled for August

In 2020 the COVID pandemic forced the Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon to… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read