Opinion: Chilliwack can learn from Abbotsford's costly penalty

The debacle that has been the Abbotsford Heat lurched to its costly conclusion yesterday, with the team’s announcement that this would be the team’s last year in the city.

It leaves behind an acrimonious debate over the City of Abbotsford’s involvement with the hockey team – and another $5.5 million bill.

There is a lesson to be learned here for Chilliwack – or at least a reminder: If a sports franchise is to survive, it must do so on its own.

Fortunately for Chilliwack taxpayers, that was understood while the original agreements over the Prospera Centre were being drawn up. And while there was pressure during the dying days of the Bruins to revisit that arrangement, city council had the wisdom to avoid that discussion.

And for good reason. Since the Heat moved into the 7,000-seat Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, the team has cost Abbotsford taxpayers roughly $5 million – that’s in addition to money taxpayers already spend annually to subsidize the arena. The city will now spend $5.5 million to buy its way out of that agreement.

The team was paid that money because the Heat was guaranteed not to lose money; If it came up short, city taxpayers would make up the difference.

Granted, a major sports franchise is good for a city. There are economic spinoffs that help build a local economy. And then there are the less tangibles, like the inspiration the team provides minor hockey players, or the appeal it can be to businesses looking to relocate.

But that said, municipalities cannot afford – nor should not afford – to underwrite a professional sports team. There are far too many cost pressures that local governments must already contend with, and there are far too many places that money is better spent.

As municipal voters head to the polls this November, there’s no doubt some in Abbotsford will be thinking about this train wreck.

Hopefully in Chilliwack, political aspirants looking to one day hold office will also be taking note.


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