It’s not all fun and games

February 4, 2015

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.

What you think about “It’s not all fun and games”

  1. I’m sure the majority of your readers have no idea what the Commish and his band of merry men take in, I know I don’t. Perhaps it’s time for the owners and their respective support staffs to band together and take a serious look above and perhaps propose some cuts to the” over overhead” if they feel that it is necessary. I’m sure the owners have a fair amount of clout!

  2. This is what I am told the NOJHL executive salaries are:
    Robert Mazucca $45,0000.00 a year plus commission of 10k for every new team
    Ted Magee $31,000.00
    Hector Seguin $18,000.00
    Chris May $27,500.00
    Media Guy $10,000.00

    1. Wow, that blows my mind. I sat in that chair for one season after Commissioner Drago, and I can tell you that back then it was only a honorarium with a part time secretary, and a small stipend for the referee in chief….I believe that my honorarium was around $3,000.00 back then (1998)…how times have changed.

    2. Randy, things certainly have changed as 4 years ago I was told the commish’s wages were $10,000,00. If these wages are correct the owners and or league governors must take MUCH or ALL the blame for allowing this to happen.
      Again, if true, this is a travesty.
      Another example of parents having to pay for the animals at the trough.

  3. The same financial issues are faced by most teams in every Junior “A” league in Ontario – SIJHL, NOJHL, OJHL, and the CCHL. Good owners/teams and leagues are starting to find ways to diversify their revenue by expanding their business plan. Those who just rely on the traditional advertising and ticket revenue will fall by the way side.

  4. Randy, tell us how much you really hate Mazzuca and the NOJHL!

    Yes, teams pay a fee to the NOJHL, just like teams from every league do, including the CIHL. I’ve been told that league fees for every team are a bit over 20K. Not sure at all how that compares to other Jr A leagues in Ontario, which are all pay to play now.

    I have no pity for the owners however. It’s easy to point out that some teams are in the red but it is true also that others are in the black also. The Soo is a great team but it’s in the wrong city, not necessarily the wrong league. Would the team suddenly start drawing fans and become profitable if it left the NOJHL for the CIHL or the NAHL? Blind River would be more competitive if it played in the CIHL but would the long time fans accept a lower overall level of hockey? Maybe. Espanola did. In Sudbury, the team is run on a shoe string budget with a cheap owner (my opinion) and no fans. The team has trouble attracting and keeping players around even though Sudbury is by far the biggest city and have 3 post-secondary options for players. Maybe the fact that it charges the highest fee, by quite a bit, discourages players from playing there. All in all, some NOJHL teams are profitable, some aren’t. It’s the same in every league. Most OJHL teams would love to have the attendance number that many NOJHL teams have.

  5. Those sallaries are NOT justified in my humble opinion. Thats alot of money to be paying a “fat cat” Executive imho.
    I am a fan of the GMiners & the NOJHL .. however its a glorified Junior “B” League that does not have a very good record of advancing Players to NCAA Hockey.

  6. I would say the jr b league down in southern Ontario would hands down take out any nojhl team so would that make the nojhl a glorified jr c league ?

    1. Dbristol, A little hard to compare the “jr b league in southern ontario” to the NOJHL. There are numerous factors that go into league classification, so the jr b league you reference (GOJHL) is classified as such because of money. It is more expensive (OHF/Hockey Canada Fees) to be classified as a Jr A league than a Jr B league. Having said that, I have watched the GOJHL this year and IMHO, the top teams in the GOJHL would beat the NOJHL’s top teams. If you need further proof that categories don’t necessarily translate to level of play, how does the NOJHL compete at the “Jr A” Dudley Hewitt Cup? With the exception of the one year where the TBirds rode John Kleinans all the way to the RBC Cup, the “Noj” does not compete with the OJHL and has fallen behind the SJHL. Just my opionion……

  7. Just out of curiosity, how much are players paying in the CIHL, what are their executives getting paid and have the players from the teams that pulled the plug get reimbursed for the portion of the season that they did not get to play. There must be a few people or parents of players out there who can offer an honest answer to these questions.

    1. For what’s it worth, the Colborne Hawks fee for my kid, was $2,000. We are local. I believe import players’ fees were over double that-but I don’t know for sure.

  8. I know players in colborne paid up to 5000 not including billit fees but that was before they jumped to the wuhl not sure what there paying in that league

  9. Exactly ohlfan I’m talking about skill not the cost to play and as you said the gojhl top teams would beat the nojhl I’ve watched Chatham and and Lexington play. And I’ve watched the soo thunderbirds on fasthockey and have seen Kirkland lake play as well and gojhl is let’s say more competive you are rright and I can’t come t ion the sijhl because I have not seen a game this year

    1. As well, in the GOJHL, the player pays nothing to play, billets are paid for by the team and each player gets a certain number of sticks. The proximity of the teams, the smaller OHF/Hockey Canada Fees, I suspect, permits teams to do the above. Factually speaking, the Jr “B” GOJHL has produced more NCAA Division 1 committments than the NOJ. I make this comment not as a slight against the NOJ but rather to reiterate that the letter A or B means nothing in certain cases.

    2. Hi, the money paid by the players went to their teams not the CIHL.. any parent should ask the team officials… the league received little if any money from what I understand from someone I know who is involved with the league.. as for executive, all I know is that the staff (2 people) have been paid while the rest do it for the love of the game..

  10. With what is the talk around Town I think that the Beavers are done after this season. To many bills and top be onest there are not to many Fans who give a flying f–k about this Board and the Direction.

    1. To me Its Joke who’s running the team and now who’s coaching !!! Flat out embarrassing …. Not to mention this Fun Fact !!! Jan2/ 3 1st game back from break again the Blackhawks Rob the President of the board called an early meeting for the kids before Coach Don came in from the Soo and allegedly told the Kids to Lose the game so he could fire Don… I believe that this is a Fact and he is the President telling kids to throw the game …. WTF … this is 100% FACT I am told… As a parent I was so pissed to find this out just couldn’t believe that I was really hearing that … Several kids on the team confirmed that… No Player or Parent should ever let their kids play there until the team is sold…

  11. To all comparing the NOJHL to the GOJHL is completely wrong, look at Gratton in Cochrane Dominating here but dominated the GOJHL as well, top to bottom the NOJHL is better then the GOJHL the teams like St Cathrins and well ands will always be strong but the top teams in the NOJHL would win a 7 game series the players who now play in the GOJHL are over paid hacks from major junior who don’t belive in pay to play… Just my opinion but anyway if the NOJHL is junior B what is the CIHL JUNIOR D? From the old days

  12. The league to league comparison is a moot point, but lets just say the best from the NOJHL was every bit as good as the best from the other leagues in the prospects tournament. Some kids want to go south to play and that is their choice, some kids prefer to stay home and good for them. Lets not kid ourselves about the NCAA dream – the D1 full rides are few and far between plus the kid needs to have the marks and be committed to writing the SAT which is no small feat. The D3 schools will typically cost you more that a good Canadian university education.

  13. GMHL Legaue Fee’s are $9000. (I think) The NOJHL is charging over double this, and then charges league fee’s on every transaction and player card, so that $20,000 turns into $30,000 by the time things are done. Way too much money if you ask me, but this is due to the salaries you are paying these guys to run a 9 Team League. Could you let us know what the CIHL is charging for league fee’s and per team player fee’s Randy?

    1. Northbay18, the NOJHL gets $200 per player acquisition for players coming from a different league. So, to go from 20000 to 30000, a team would have to acquire 50 players during a season. But there is also a CJHL fee… $100 per trade I believe.

      For the CIHL, I can tell you that St-Charles were charging 5000 per player plus league fees (paid to the CIHL) before they left. Sudbury was charging 3500 per player plus league fees. But that was for the initial group of players. The went through something like 40 players in a few months so I don’t know what happened to the pay structure there. It might have been like beer league… pay a fee every time you showed up. But you also get what you pay for. Sudbury charged less than St-Charles but hardly practiced and actually hardly played. My friend’s nephew played there from game 1 to the end and he has not gotten a refund from the team or the league.

  14. While I realize that paid attendance is only one way to judge the success of a junior hockey franchise, I found it interesting that the Nickels Barons only drew 103 fans for their game last night against the Wildcats and Powassan drew 150 fans for a game against Mattawa.

    1. What’s surprising is that Sudbury is once again slated to host the Dudley Cup. It’s a wonder the CJHL accepted the owner’s application. A couple of years ago, Sudbury pulled out for financial reasons. Finances have not improved very much. Will the do it again? The Barons (or whatever they will be called next year) always have a decent team, just not a very goo d team. And they’re guaranteed a spot at the Dudley next year? Will they suddenly be able to ice a great team? Will players suddenly want to play there? Will they suddenly start spending and sign good players instead of selling them? Will they suddenly start drawing fans? Will the suddenly practice more than one a week? Maybe, now that they’re hosting the Dudley… for one year at least. It’s unfortunate that the Soo or even KL aren’t hosting. You know they’ll have a very good team and will run a great tournament, not on the cheap.

  15. You’re completely right HockEye,

    D1 is great hockey but scholarships are rare and not guaranteed.
    DIII is good hockey but scholarships are practically none existent and schooling is VERY expensive.
    CIS is very good hockey and athletes get a break in tuition

    Leagues and teams that sell themselves as being there for the “student-athlete” with all kinds of promises are deceitful (((((in my opinion))))) to say the least.

    1. Robbie,

      I edited your comment because I am the editor of this site. You made an incorrect statement in your financial comment about the ACHA.

    1. Gates,

      If you bother to read my response to “Robbie, it clearly states the word “financial.”

      Also, do not confuse the word opinion with truth. They are not synonyms.

      Any other questions?

      1. Hey Randy sometimes I think Gates is lost in lala land. The ACHA is getting better and has NOJHL graduates in their leagues. I think people like Gates forget that the kids are able to play their favourite sport for four more years and get an education at the same time.

        1. Correct. The top scorer in the NOJHL last season — Gavin Burbach of the Soo Thunderbirds — is playing ACHA hockey.

  16. There are teams in the NOJHL where you are looking at a 7K cost to play by the time you have paid your team fee, room and board, and incidentals (CCM Package, etc). How times have changed. I will tell what my Pops would have said if I went to him with those numbers after playing midget…….I likely would have had to help him up off the floor…… If you love it and can afford it… it……if you can’t…..go to school, get an education and remember the good times you had in minor hockey.

  17. Robbie; Suds pulled out of the Dudley under different ownership. Different ownership means a different set of pockets . That is what is required to host. Ability to pay the bills.

      1. Robbie, you really don’t have a clue on who or how many owners are involved with Sudbury.
        Just by talking about ownership in the singular proves that, but hey you are entitled to your own opinion…

  18. the players fee in IF is $0.00
    the eskis pay for billeting and all the other fee they encounter to play here.
    but somehow other teams in the nojhl get the high caliber players ?????
    I have been told by other people in other town that not all the players get charged to play there also but that would not sit well with me if I was playing there.

  19. For those interested, I paid 7.5K upfront + 500 a mont in billet fees for the CIHL Collingwood ICE adventure. No refunds from anyone. I brought them my 16yrs old out of AAA believing what they were saying only to end up with nothing in December. No sorry, only finger pointing. Thankfully, the GMHL team of Meaford took him in where he can finish the season. I always thought that hockey people were different in that they were involved for the love of the game but wrong I was.

  20. My son plays in the U18 Elite league in Sweden, which is the “top” league there. The fee for the whole season is about 1000 Canadian $, including insurance, transportation to road games and food on the road. They have 6-7 ice practice sessions, 4-5 gym sessions and two games a week. The level of the game is quite high as well, according to statistcs the chanse of reaching the NHL is twice as high if you’ve played junior hockey in Sweden compared to playing junior hockey in Canada (season 2012/2013 stats). Swedes are great to get along with and the teams are all well organized and proffessional. Just saying…

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