Fraser Valley abuzz that #Vancouver #Canucks owner has designs on #Abbotsford hockey team, arena
Posted 17 August 2012 - 10:57 PM
Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate — the Abbotsford Heat — are locked into a 10-year supply fee agreement with the City of Abbotsford and after three years, it’s been a disaster. The Heat played four post-season games this season in their home building that can accommodate 7,046 fans for hockey and drew an average of 2,389.
There is a hockey board meeting scheduled for Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. in Abbotsford. Ken King, president of the Calgary Flames, will be there. Lane Sweeting, chairman of Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment as well as Abbotsford Heat Hockey Ltd., says that while he has not been told anything by the city about a potential Aquilini takeover, it would not surprise him. Aquilini did not respond to messages left for him Friday.
Read more: http://www.vancouver...l#ixzz23sWXaGuG
Posted 18 August 2012 - 09:08 PM
Published: August 18, 2012 2:00 PM
Updated: August 18, 2012 6:46 PM
by Kevin Mills and Dan Kinvig
Abbotsford city manager Frank Pizzuto downplayed a Vancouver newspaper report that Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini is interested in buying the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and stationing the Canucks' AHL affiliate there.
Pizzuto said he is not aware of any dealings between Aquilini and the city.
He noted the rumour has come up before, but said no talks have taken place.
"It's not on the market," he said, referring to the AESC. "I don't know where that comes from."
Bringing the Canucks' farm team to Abbotsford would make sense on a number of levels. The Heat are affiliated with the Calgary Flames, one of Vancouver's division rivals, and have struggled at the box office over their three-year history. Attendance has dropped each year, from 3,897 to 3,807 to 3,545 last season. But a team linked to the Canucks would be a better draw.
The attendance issues have cost taxpayers, as the Heat have a supply fee agreement with the City of Abbotsford that guarantees the team a break-even budget up to $5.7 million annually. The shortfall was $450,000 in 2009-10, and rose to $1.37 million in 2010-11.
Selling the AESC could also make sense from the city's perspective, in that they could lower the debt load on the facility while also eliminating the annual operating deficit.
The AESC's projected deficit for 2011 is $2.83 million, which includes $1.7 million for building expenses and $1.1 million earmarked to cover the hockey team's financial shortfall for 2011-12. The team's fiscal year ended in June, and the final numbers are expected next month.
But the rumoured transaction would be a complex one. Even if Aquilini were able to strike a deal with the city to buy the arena, he'd have to come to an agreement with the Calgary Flames, the Heat's NHL parent club, and the local operating group, Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment.
The Flames own the franchise, while the FVSE group led by Lane Sweeting holds the AHL board of governors' approval to operate a team in the region.
It's worth noting that the Canucks do not own an AHL franchise, and are heading into the second year of a two-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Wolves.
"We have a contract with Calgary, and discussions would have to take place between Vancouver and them," Pizzuto noted.
Acquiring a local farm team would further strengthen the Canucks' already-strong brand, while facilitating greater convenience for the team in terms of player recalls and prospect development.
Posted 20 August 2012 - 08:16 PM
The smouldering rumours of Francesco Aquilini having interest in purchasing the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and eventually relocating the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate to the Fraser Valley have sparked speculation because it would make fiscal and logistical sense for the ambitious NHL owner.
As much as everybody was trying to toss cold water on the concept Monday — Canucks Sports and Entertainment choosing in a statement to champion its minor-league arrangement with the Chicago Wolves that has a year remaining and Abbotsford city manager Frank Pizzuto stressing that the AESC is not on the market — striking a deal with the parent Calgary Flames to relocate the Abbotsford Heat, and the Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment Group that has AHL approval to ice a team in the area, might also ease the financial strain on the City of Abbotsford and its taxpayers. The only other arena tenant is a Lingerie Football League team scheduled to start play this fall in the $66.2 million facility that also houses concerts and trade shows.
Three years into a 10-year supply fee agreement that guarantees the Heat a break-even point with its annual budget of $5.7 million, crowds have shrunk and shortfalls have skyrocketed to the point where the operation is simply off the rails because poor gates have a trickle-down effect to taxpayers. Opened on May 10, 2009 the 7,046-seat AESC has seen average Heat attendance drop from 3,897, to 3,807 to 3,545. And because of the supply fee agreement, shortfalls have risen from a reported $450,000 in the 2009-10 season to $1.37 million in 2010-11 and projected to be $2.83 million for last season when numbers are revealed next month. They could be delivered during a hockey board meeting Sept. 7 with Flames president Ken King expected to be present.
Regardless of the disturbing numbers stacking up in favour of an AESC sale to lower the facility’s debt load and potentially reducing operating costs by attracting a minor-league affiliate associated with the Canucks, the NHL club only offered the following statement:
“Canucks Sports and Entertainment maintains a strong, ongoing relationship with their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. The club will not address speculative reports or discuss the partnerships of other NHL teams. No further comment will be provided at this time.”
Pizzuto was more blunt. He said he has no knowledge of discussions between Aquilini and the City of Abbotsford and that this isn’t the first time rumours have risen of a potential buyer and arena sale. Pizzuto didn’t return a call from The Province on Monday, but told the Abbotsford News that he wasn’t aware of any talks about purchasing the AESC.
“It’s not on the market,” he said. “I don’t know where that comes from.”
As for a switch in hockey tenants, Pizzuto clarified that conversation wouldn’t involve him.
“We have a contract with Calgary and discussion would have to take place between Vancouver and them [Flames],” he said.
King also couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Most importantly, this arrangement isn’t working for anyone, regardless of the supply fee agreement for the Heat. The rumours aren’t surprising at all because there is no growth and an arena that’s turning into a white elephant without a profitable major tenant. Aquilini built his business empire by striking when the opportunities arose to add assets at attractive price points. In April, he purchased The Falls Golf Resort in Chilliwack that had filed for bankruptcy in 2011 with a $75 million debt load. The course had also deteriorated and closed last October before re-opening last month.
Meanwhile, moving the Wolves wouldn’t be easy. They’re owned by Don Levin but his long-term AHL commitment might not be great. He’s willing to invest $100 million US in a partnership to build and arena in Bellevue, Wash. and bring an NHL team to the Seattle area. That could factor into the Canucks’ expiring agreement with the Wolves and whether they would seek to partner with another AHL club. The balance between winning and developing players has always been at the forefront of the Canucks’ minor-league arrangements and appointing former Manitoba Moose and Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss Scott Arniel as head coach should satisfy both concerns.
So would having players in close proximity to Vancouver for recalls and re-assignments and building branding and marketing opportunities even further throughout the province.
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