Junior Klippers’ future in Kindersley questioned

(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion, Feb. 18/2015)

By Kyle Jahns

Courtesy of Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers

Courtesy of Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers

The 2014-15 Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers campaign could be the last one in Kindersley unless the team’s financial situation improves in the coming months, according to team president Garnet Gramlich.

Gramlich said the team is around $150,000 in debt and the financial situation is not improving. Gramlich is making a call to the community for its support.

Based on Kindersley’s population, the team is expected to have around 400-500 season tickets sold. However, Gramlich said that number is closer to 200. There is some extra revenue coming in from walk-in ticket sales at home games, but Gramlich doesn’t believe that’s a successful business model for the community-owned team.  It takes anywhere from $500,000 to $600,000 to operate the team per season.

The team sold $70,000 in new corporate sponsorship prior to the 2014-15 season that was used to pay off last season’s debt. Gramlich hoped this year’s cash lottery – offering ticket holders a chance to win up to $100,000 – would help consolidate some of the costs to this year’s debt and expenses. While the lottery did make money, it wasn’t enough to secure the team’s future next season.

Gramlich said the team started to experience financial troubles when the old Exhibition Stadium burned down in 2010. The fire cost the team $200,000 between uninsured items and the costs to operate the team out of Eston for the remainder for the season.

“Every home game was like an away game because of the costs to transport the team to Eston,” Gramlich said. The team also needed to travel to Eston for practices. The cost of the arena was not free either, as the team had to pay for ice rentals, according to Gramlich.

Attendance at Klippers games dropped after that season. While fans have slowly trickled back into the West Central Events Centre it hasn’t been at a fast enough pace for the Klippers to recuperate their costs.

“When you lose your fans, it’s hard to get them back,” Gramlich said.

Gramlich was hopeful the 2014 World Junior A Challenge would draw some interest back to the Klippers. The West Central Events Centre was packed to the rafters for the majority of the tournament, but that momentum didn’t carry over into Klippers regular season games.

The quality of the hockey isn’t that much different, Gramlich pointed out. Klippers forward Cody Young and goaltender Evan Weninger both represented Canada West. Forward Owen LaClare took part in Canada West’s training camp, but did not make the cut.

The team’s on-ice talent should not be deterring fans from seeing Klippers games either. The team is in the midst of one of its best seasons in franchise history. The Klippers (35-11-3-3) are looking to earn a division title and finish as one of the top-two teams in the SJHL. The Klippers are ranked 11th among all junior A team across Canada, according to the latest Canadian Junior Hockey League power rankings. Gramlich would like to see the team make a deep push into the playoffs with more people in the stands at the West Central Events Centre.

The Klippers have been part of Kindersley for 22 years, and Gramlich would hate to see the impact on the community if the team had to fold. The West Central Events Centre would lose its anchor tenant within the arena, home to 28 games per season plus playoff games. Some Klippers players make their homes in Kindersley afterwards and join the senior Kindersley Red Lions team. The Klippers junior hockey team even has an economic impact. SJHL president Bill Chow said the SJHL brings in approximately $20-million in economic impact across the province while he was in Kindersley last October for a World Junior A Challenge luncheon.

Gramlich said the team pays $70,000 alone in billeting costs. All of that money goes back into the community’s grocery stores and local businesses.

But the Klippers are more than money, according to Gramlich. The players are considered part of families. Some players make the town of Kindersley their homes not only for their tenure here, but beyond. The demise of the Klippers would mean many of the junior hockey players who interact with the minor players at the rink and live with the young ones through the billeting program would no longer be a part of Kindersley. It’s common for Klippers alumni to still keep in touch with their billeting families well after their tenures here in Kindersley.

Gramlich is making the call for the people of Kindersley to come out for a night of entertainment at a Klippers game. The team is also in need of more volunteers to help operate games. Everything from 50/50 ticket vendors, to security is needed.

Gramlich would also like the community’s feedback on how to get people interested in coming out to games and supporting the junior Klippers franchise in Kindersley once again.

The Klippers’ financial situation is no different from the Weyburn Red Wings. The Red Wings just revealed their financial troubles earlier this month. Gramlich thought now is the time for the Klippers to make their situation public, and he hopes the community will respond in favour of supporting the local franchise.

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