The Nanaimo Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs and now they could be eliminated from Nanaimo’s sports scene.
The B.C. Hockey League club held a press conference last week announcing that if the team isn’t able to find local ownership in the next two weeks, the franchise will move or suspend operations. Considering that citizens were pondering major junior hockey just 10 days ago, it would be a real cross-check in the face to have junior A taken away.
It’s easy to fault out-of-town owners, but losing the Clippers would be a team effort, of sorts.
The franchise has been for sale for two years and hasn’t sold. The ownership group helped keep the Clippers in a position to be champions and contenders for most of the past 11 seasons. Even though the owners didn’t get to a lot of games, they wrote a lot of cheques – junior hockey isn’t a money-making proposition. The league’s board chairman has joked in the past that if you want to be a millionaire owner in the BCHL, you have to start out as a multi-millionaire.
Attendance has been on the decline. There are any number of reasons why, but two seasons ago, for example, the team finished first and featured the league’s most exciting player, and still the crowds were more mild than wild.
So the gate has suffered, and sponsorship will always be a struggle; after all, the Clippers aren’t the only game in town. In the past dozen or so years, the number of sports teams in the city has increased significantly; has the business community grown apace?
It’s convenient to suggest the City of Nanaimo’s recent zeal for WHL hockey forced the junior A club’s hand, but we’re not so sure. We do know the event centre’s rejection put the Clippers in a better bargaining position as far as lease negotiations at Frank Crane Arena.
Whatever the contributing factors, they’ve brought us to the same place – the team is on the brink of elimination. Of course two weeks isn’t long enough to buy or to sell a hockey team, but that’s the timeline Nanaimo is facing.
The third period is winding down, the goalie has been pulled and it’s going to take some late-game heroics.