The Western Hockey League’s Board of Governors met in Calgary on Thursday and voted unanimously to approve the transfer of the Kootenay Ice ownership from the Chynoweth family to Winnipeg entrepreneur Greg Fettes and hockey executive Matt Cockell.
Prior to the sale, the Chynoweths had been involved in the WHL for 45 years and owned the Ice franchise since 1995, moving the team from Edmonton to Cranbrook in 1998. The team was founded by Ed Chynoweth following his tenure as president of the WHL and since his passing in 2008, his son Jeff Chynoweth has operated the franchise as President and General Manager.
According to WHL Commissioner Ron Robison, there was an extensive approval process to ensure that the new ownership group met the league’s requirements and also had sufficient plans to return the team’s attendance to “acceptable levels.”
“We reviewed their plans for the franchise and think it’s realistic,” Robison said over the phone from Calgary on Thursday night. “It’s going to all be contingent, obviously, on the level of support from the community [though].
“The attendance levels are at a point where they need to improve immediately and [the new owners] are focused not only on being very engaged in the community but [also] on improving the fan experience in the building.”
The Kootenay Ice’s struggles with attendance have been well documented. Last June, Robison told the Townsman that the franchise had “reached a very critical change” and believed their requirement had to be “something in excess of 3,000 [fans] a game.”
In 2016-17, the Ice averaged just 1,754 fans a night — the least in the league — down from 1,957 the year before, and 2,239 in 2014-15.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in a short period of time, but [Fettes and Cockell] are very excited about the opportunity and are looking forward to getting started,” Robison said. “Anytime you get an injection of some new energy, that’s going to be good and we’re all looking forward to [seeing] what this new ownership group can do and especially what Matt Cockell can bring to the community.”
Robison said that the WHL’s first objective at all times is to try to ensure that a franchise remains in its current location, and is optimistic that the team can experience a fan-resurgence under new management.
“Our hope is that under the new ownership, the community will respond and support the franchise,” he said. “There’s no question, there [are] some great fans in Cranbrook and the Kootenay-region and we believe that with [the] new strategies and plans that the ownership group is planning to implement, that we’ll see significant improvement.”
The new ownership group comes with plenty of experience in both business and hockey.
According to the WHL’s press release, Fettes comes to the league with “20 years entrepreneurial experience in sales, marketing and operations.”
Fettes is the founder of 24-7 Intouch, a global customer service outsourcing company with over 8000 employees in 14 sites around the world including Canada, United States, Guatemala, Jamaica, and the Philippines.
Cockell, on the other hand, has deep roots in the WHL. A three-year veteran of the league as a goaltender for the Saskatoon Blades, Seattle Thunderbirds, Regina Pats, and Spokane Chiefs, he utilized his WHL Scholarship to earn an Honours degree in Marketing and Small Business Finance at the University of Manitoba.
Previously, Cockell served as Vice President, Corporate Partnerships for True North Sports + Entertainment while also accumulating over 17 years of hockey experience with Hockey Canada, the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Winnipeg South Blues and Hockey Manitoba.
Cockell, who will be relocating his family to Cranbrook, will take over the role of President and General Manager and assume responsibility for all business and hockey operations of the club.
“The WHL is fortunate to have attracted a high calibre ownership group to take over the operation of the Kootenay Ice franchise,” Robison commented in the league’s press release. “On behalf of the WHL Board of Governors, I would like to thank the Chynoweth family for their long-standing service and extraordinary contributions to the WHL and we look forward to the City of Cranbrook and Kootenay region embracing the new ownership group.”
The sale of the franchise will officially close on Monday, May 1, at which point the new ownership group will take over operation of the team immediately.