EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest column by Kevin Cain of Cain Hockey Management represents the views of the author and not necessarily those of Hockey News North.
Junior A hockey in Ontario is at a crossroad.
The pay to play model that has propped up teams financially over the last number of years is becoming a problem.
The majority of teams and leagues in Ontario charge some sort of player fees which can run up to $5,000 to $7,000 per year per player. Thus, a player who plays three years of junior could pay $15,000 to $20,000 over that time.
Despite the fact that expenses to operate a junior hockey franchise go up, I believe player fees are maxed out. And I don’t believe there is a market for player fees to continue to rise to meet expenses.
While there are a few teams that can afford to operate without player fees, the great majority need them to just to survive.
To be sure, there are really only two business models in Ontario running junior hockey franchises.
There is the privately owned franchise that is owned by a single owner or group of owners. This situation is the least stable of the two but ownership may be willing to operate at a loss for two reasons. One is it’s a smaller community, a source of pride for the community and an opportunity for players to play closer to home.
Then there is the dad who buys a team to ensure his son has a place to play where dad-owner controls the narrative of his son’s junior career, regardless of the costs and losses. It is the least stable because when the son graduates, the dad looks to sell the franchise to the next rich father with an up and coming player. This example is the majority, much more prevalent than people think, especially in the Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
The big issue now is Ontario is the only province with real pay to play in junior A. Even community based junior B teams in the Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League don’t charge anything over the league player fee of approximately $1,000. This may be one of the big reasons the OJHL has been unwilling to grant junior A status to any of the junior B franchises.
For certain, there are some very successful private operators, especially in the Central Canada Hockey League, an example being Jason Clarke of the Carleton Place Canadians.
Look for a reduction in junior A teams over the next 10 years. Although there are always going to be dad-owners, financially, the numbers will start to make less and less sense.
Only community owned teams have a chance to grow as they are a quality of life asset to the community and a large purchaser of ice from the city owned local arena.
If leagues don’t start to look ahead and trim league budgets, they will make it impossible for league teams to grow. And the days of free spending, high salary league executives are coming to an end.
I hope I’m wrong but with teams maxing out on very expensive player fees, rising costs and over spending leagues, I believe the only question will be how many teams in Ontario will be lost.
— Kevin Cain, president/advisor, Cain Hockey Management