Steel requests to relocate
AJHL team hopes to play in Whitecourt next season
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 31, 2012 06:00 am
The Alberta Junior Hockey League announced Friday afternoon the St. Albert Steel has submitted a request for relocation to Whitecourt for the 2012-13 season.
However, a request for transfer in ownership has not been submitted.
As per league bylaws, the AJHL’s board of governors has appointed a committee, including president Craig Cripps and the chairman of the board, Greg Wood, to investigate the proposed relocation and report back to the board.
A meeting is scheduled for Good Friday in Edmonton between the Steel, the city and the AJHL’s management committee.
Mayor Nolan Crouse is worried St. Albert will lose its second AJHL team in less than 10 years.
“Of course I’m concerned,” said Crouse, who was involved in a conference call with Cripps and Wood on Friday morning. “I’m also concerned that the Steel are asking the taxpayers to replace the lost season ticket sales and replace the lost game day sales with taxpayers’ money. People can draw their own conclusions why they didn’t show up, but the taxpayers should not be on the hook for the fans not showing up.”
The existing five-year agreement between the city and the Steel expires on Aug. 31. By not asking for a change in ownership the Steel prevent the city from invoking its right to first refusal.
The city has first rights to purchase or find local buyers to match any offer for the Steel.
“They’ve applied to relocate under the same ownership, meaning we as a city do not have the right of first refusal,” Crouse said. “It’s a very deliberate decision by the Steel to relocate. That means it’s not for sale. So relocating is up to the league, not to the city. If it was for sale then we have the first rights. What they asked is to relocate and keep ownership the same, but for how long?”
Cripps said if a team wants to change ownership or relocate, it requires a vote by the board.
“There has been no such request in regards to transfer of ownership,” Cripps said.
The major stumbling block in negotiations between the city and the Steel is revenue from advertising in the newly renamed Northstar Hyundai Arena. The Steel want 100 per cent of the revenue instead of what is considered to be 40 per cent.
Greg Parks, the head coach, general manager and part owner of the Steel, didn’t respond to an interview request from the Gazette on Friday afternoon.
On Thursday, Parks was not optimistic a deal would get done.
“No. Not at all,” Parks said. “We’re not getting much love here.”
A meeting had been set for Tuesday between the Steel and the city for the AJHL team to advise what its intentions were for the 2012-13 season, but before the meeting Parks informed the city he wasn’t going to attend.
Cripps said on Wednesday the AJHL has no role in the contract being negotiated between the city and the Steel.
“It’s a private matter,” he said.
On Wednesday the AJHL’s board of governors conducted a conference call to discuss the status of the Steel.
Steel governor Kelly Smith said he didn’t participate in the conference call, but has been invited to attend next week’s meeting.
Whitecourt has been rumoured as prime relocation spot for the Steel since last season, when Brent Stark of Whitecourt, who runs Scott Safety and the Whitecourt Wolverines junior B team, put in an offer to buy the Lloydminster Bobcats.
Parks was the assistant coach, general manager and part owner of the Fort Saskatchewan Traders when the AJHL approved the relocation of the team to St. Albert in a vote by the board in March of 2007.
Crouse said he trusts the process involving a third party review of the situation.
“We offered the Steel a good deal, at least that’s what we thought, but that’s up to the league’s independent body to determine if they think it’s a good deal,” Crouse said. “I’m going to make a case to the independent review panel, who I trust, to get the Steel to stay in St. Albert. If they look at the situation and say, ‘Look St. Albert, your fans haven’t shown up and what the city is providing is inadequate,’ then we’ll have to respond at that time.
“I’m hopeful that they see St. Albert as a favourable location.”
The Steel has lost money since the Traders relocated to St. Albert in 2007. Season ticket sales dropped from 454 in the team’s inaugural season to about 75 this past season.
The Steel averaged 247 fans at Performance Arena while posting five wins on home ice and missed the playoffs for the first time in team history with a league worst 9-48-3 record in the 16-team circuit.
The city has already sent the AJHL a list of possible home dates so the league can schedule 30 home games for next season.
Cripps said the deadline for teams to provide scheduling dates is about two weeks prior to the annual general meeting
“They have to have commitment from their facility showing that they have ice for the scheduling meeting,” Cripps said.