It is supposed to be all fun and games and for the kids but we all know it’s way more than that.
Junior A hockey isn’t the hundred million dollar business that the major junior game is but it’s still a business.
Take a look at the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
The NOJHL has more teams than ever — nine to be exact — and even though the level and calibre of play is about the same, the cost of doing business just keeps on rising.
I wonder how long some of the well-intentioned owners are going to continue to write cheques to the NOJHL to cover league fees that pay the commissioner and his staff of fancy titles.
In particular, I wonder how long the NOJHL as it exists will continue to include the teams in the area where I reside, namely the Soo Thunderbirds and Blind River Beavers.
The Thunderbirds, to be sure, are a well-run business.
They have a good owner in Albert Giommi, a successful businessman who has a good heart and who genuinely likes helping and supporting teenaged hockey players.
But as generous as Giommi is, I would think that he has his limits. As much as the Thunderbirds are owned, operated and marketed as a good business, they lose money every year.
Yes, while the Thunderbirds may contend for the NOJHL championship every year, the buck always stops with Giommi at season’s end and his signature is needed to cover the deficit.
Junior A hockey can be a lot of fun.
Fun and expensive if you are Giommi who owns a team in a town that is dominated by the big boys from the Ontario Hockey League who seem to get more and more popular every year.
Just about every junior hockey fan who I know in Sault Ste. Marie knows who the Thunderbirds are. They just don’t go to their games.
And what about Blind River?
Once a model for a small-market NOJHL franchise, the Beavers have fallen on hard times.
They haven’t won a game this season and their attendance and financial supporters have fallen off. A non-for-profit organization, the Beavers are as deep in debt as they are in last place.
To be sure, the NOJHL can continue to expand and carry on and become even more expensive to operate within. But how long can the merry ways of the commissioner and his merry men continue? How long before the NOJHL out-prices its owners and operators?
What gets me is that the NOJHL has become pay-to-play. But it seems to me that the more the players play, the owners pay. Where is the good business sense in that?
I like junior A hockey. Really like it, in fact.
But what I don’t like is the thought of two of my favourite teams possibly not being a part of it, as we look ahead.
Just my thoughts, no more, no less.