One of the most popular annual events in Newfoundland and Labrador sports – the Herder Memorial Championship – was a flop this past season.
Earlier this year, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) was met with heated criticism by teams in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League and their fans over its decision to move the series to the province’s two largest stadiums, the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook and Mile One in St. John’s, instead of letting the competing teams play their home games in their home stadiums.
HNL said at the time, the decision was all in an effort to implement a new revenue sharing model for the Herder.
But financially speaking, it was all for naught, according to HNL’s Senior Council Chair Gary Gale.
Gale told the Advertiser last week there was no money to give back to the teams after expenses were paid.
For those in the stands at the Herder games in March, especially the ones played in Corner Brook, the lackluster attendance at the games raised questions about how much, if any, revenue there would be to share.
“Attendance was a factor, there’s no question about that,” said Gale. “But teams were running very high budgets this year, we’re requesting teams get their budgets down significantly…we’re taking a close look at the money we’re prepared to provide to teams that go to the Herder.”
In this winter’s fight for a change on the Herder venue decision, the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts led the charge, with former Director of Hockey Operations Barry Manuel at the helm.
Manuel, who has been with the Cataracts for 10 years, has recently resigned from his role with the organization.
Manuel said he disagrees with the notion that the teams’ expenses are to blame for the low numbers and lack of revenue from this years Herder.
According to Manuel, the budget of $15,000 per team per game for expenses was decided on before the series even started, and said the Cataracts came in under budget for each game.
Manuel said the Cataracts consistently warned HNL that with the Clarenville and Grand Falls-Windsor competing for the trophy, fans would not make the trip to see the teams at a different stadium hundreds of kilometers away.
“The frustrating part is we told them the Pepsi Centre was going to be a flop,” he said.
Manuel said the Cataracts drafted a document showing projected revenues for the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium in Grand Falls-Windsor versus the Pepsi Centre and Mile One Centre based on different attendance levels, and ticket prices. The document even included venue expenses and team expenses, and was presented to HNL weeks before the Herder.
For the Pepsi Centre, the Cataracts based their revenue projections on a high turnout of 3,000 fans, and a low turnout of 1,500. Manuel said HNL disagreed with the projections, and suggested they change the lowest possible turnout for the Pepsi Centre to 3,500 fans.
However, according to Manuel, the average turnout was closer to 1,100.
Manuel said they could have saved tens of thousands of dollars in expenses by having the games played in the teams’ home stadiums.
“When we play in Grand Falls-Windsor we billet our players, they wouldn’t have had to stay in hotels, we also have sponsors that would have provided meals,” said Manuel.
One of the biggest advantages of holding the Cataracts home games at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, besides being able to ensure a nearly sold-out game, would have been the huge savings in venue costs.
“The Town was going to rent it to us for free,” said Manuel. “At the worst of times, it’s $1,800 to rent.”
The Pepsi Centre cost HNL $9,000 per night, and Mile One, $22,450, he said.
According to Manuel, after this information was presented, HNL was still confident their attendance levels would be enough to pay expenses and have revenue to go around.
“They predicted such a high number of fans, and they were way off base,” said Manuel. “Back at our meeting in Gander in January, I asked (HNL if there was) not enough money to go around to pay the expenses of the two teams that compete, who is going to cover the loss? They responded that HNL wouldn’t go in the hole for the teams.
“So we said hold on, you want two teams to go into this, assume all the risks, and if it’s a bust, it’s on the teams and HNL has no liability when you’re forcing us to play (these venues?)”
Manuel claimed it was a struggle, but HNL eventually agreed to take on the liability.
Although HNL agreed to cover the teams’ expenses in the instance of a loss, Manuel said there was another issue in how long it took HNL to pay back those expenses.
In the 2012 Herder Memorial Event Guidelines, a document drafted by HNL, it states that HNL would pay the teams back within 30 days of the end of the series.
According to Manuel, the Cataracts submitted their invoices and receipts within a week after the series, but didn’t receive the cheque until mid-June – around 75 days later.
“This is an official document that (HNL) is supposed to adhere to. This is money we had to (borrow) from creditors,” said Manuel, adding that the Herder guidelines document also states all the teams were supposed to receive a report on Herder finances, and have yet to see that report.
“It was a terrible way they dealt with it, but it was typical in dealing with HNL,” said Manuel.
Change of heart
Earlier this month, HNL released a statement suggesting in light of the unanimous agreement that the teams in the NLSHL would like a choice of where they play the Herder, HNL had decided to make changes to the Herder venue model. These changes, it read, will be finalized at a meeting in September.
While Gale wouldn’t say for sure what exactly the changes were, he said HNL would do it’s best to accommodate the teams.
“We’re going to have a working session…with an independent neutral facilitator. We’re going to look at pros and cons in reference to the different venues,” said Gale.
Pros and cons that he said included how many tickets could be made available to visiting teams, things like security, and making sure ticket prices stay low.
“If you’re going into a venue like the Joe Byrne (Stadium) in Grand Falls-Windsor, with a capacity of around 1,300 fans, it’s not certain how many seats (visiting) teams would require,” said Gale.
He added when the Conception Bay North CeeBees played the Cataracts in the Herder two years ago, there were concerns about the quality and quantity of seats available to the visiting teams.
“If Grand Falls-Windsor makes the herder next year and 3,500 want to watch, (the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium) is going to be short a couple thousand people.”
And despite it’s lack of success this past season, Gale said he still stands behinds the revenue sharing model.
“We put that model in place when we took control of the Herder (finances) and we’re not going to change that, it’s here to stay.”