By Derek Holtom
When the snow starts to melt, hockey fan bases get energized. And when teams start making it into the second and third rounds of the playoffs, the crowds really start to swell. More than 1,400 fans were at PCU Centre to watch the Terriers defeat Steinbach in Game 3 of the Turnbull Trophy final.
The final three teams left standing in the MJHL playoffs – defending champion Portage, Winkler and Steinbach, were all drawing more than 1,000 fans in late March and early April. For example, the Flyers really packed them in for their Game 6 tilt versus the Pistons, attracting 1,948 fans.
Junior teams try and plan their budgets around the regular season. After all, there really is no guarantee of a long playoff run. It’s not that long ago that the Winnipeg Blues won the league from the wild-card position, dashing the hopes of a long and lucrative playoff runs for several higher-ranked teams.
Grant Lazaruk, governor for the Steinbach Pistons, said their franchise has been very successful in terms of attracting fans in the regular season, and that these playoff runs have been great in terms of both bringing in extra dollars and energizing the fan base.
“We’ve been fortunate from our standpoint, as the new group in town, but we’re doing very well from a financial standpoint,” he said. “And these playoff runs are like extra gravy for us.
“It’s also important in terms of building a strong franchise in the community,” he added. “When we bought this franchise four years ago, there were lots of players who didn’t want to come to Steinbach. But you get a few playoff runs, and you start to be competitive, it helps build a strong franchise, and players wanting to come here.”
The Portage Terriers will make it back-to-back league finals this year, but even then, they know the importance of striking while the iron is hot.
“It’s getting harder and harder to break even,” said Dale Deschouwer, governor for the Terriers. “The costs always seem to be going up, and the crowds always have other entertainment options.
“We budget to break even in the regular season, but that doesn’t always happen.”
There are further expenses when you have a longer playoff run, such as billet fees and travel costs. But the positives far outweigh any extra cash the team has to put out.
“Winkler had 2,000 people at one playoff game,” said Lazaruk. “Yes, there’s a cost to going to Winkler, but the benefit of having a strong home crowd, and the atmosphere it provides, far outweighs the cost. It’s a net profit.”
Added Deschouwer: “Basically every extra home game you get (in the playoffs) is $10,000 in extra profit. And we’re fairly lucky that all the teams we’ve played have been close, distance wise.”
Below is a chart of this past season’s attendance numbers:
|Virden Oil Capitals||26977||30||899|
|Swan Valley Stampeders||10560||30||352|