Amid tepid interest in the open bidding to host the 100th Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League has narrowed the field to Regina (WHL), Hamilton (OHL) and Oshawa (OHL).
Under normal circumstances the 2018 centennial would have been the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s turn to host the event, but given the milestone, the CHL decided to open the bid process across the country. According to a CHL source the interest in hosting the marquee event was less than enthusiastic. That seems in line with a report from Durhamregion.com which suggests only the three finalists were serious about bids.
It had been rumoured that only those three teams expressed an interest, surprising given the prestige involved in the centennial anniversary of the championship.
“It was a little bit shocking, but we’ll take it because I think it improves our odds dramatically,” Generals owner Rocco Tullio said recently.
Tullio said it was his understanding no team from Quebec chose to bid owing to the fact the 2019 Memorial Cup will be held there, and that some teams in the WHL were pondering future bids on the world junior hockey championships.
Hosting the Memorial Cup has become a big financial commitment for many cities and teams. When the OHL’s London Knights hosted the event in 2005, for example, their financial guarantee was between $1.5 and $1.9 million. The Knights are one of the OHL’s banner franchises and their arena, the Budweiser Gardens, seats 9,090 for hockey. It was no surprise when they were also awarded the 2014 hosting rights.
When Saskatoon hosted the event in 2013 their tournament guarantee fell short, leaving taxpayers on the hook for close to $700,000. Profits fell about $1 million short, so the province had to pay $667,797 with the city of Saskatoon covering the remainder. The Blades had given the CHL a guarantee of $3.5 million to host the tournament at the Credit Union Centre which seats roughly 13,000.
With that kind of money being guaranteed by teams looking to host, the market has essentially been closed to smaller communities with smaller rinks.
The Barrie Colts bid to host the Memorial Cup on four different occasions (2002, 2005, 2011 and 2014) but were passed over each time. Built in 1995, the Barrie Molson Centre has a seating capacity of 4,195, though there was talk during one of their bids to expand seating if the team was to host the tournament.
During their push for the 2014 Memorial Cup bid, Colts president and majority owner Howie Campbell noted that the team needed the city to cough up their facilities for free in order to compete against teams with more seating – in a few cases almost double the number of seats.
“The league (CHL) is not against giving it to a smaller city, because they have that ‘remember your roots’ type of thing,” Campbell said in a 2012 interview with the Barrie Examiner.
“But at the same time, if they (other teams) can generate more revenue at this thing, if we have to pay for the cost to rent the facilities as well, then it just makes it even harder for us to come to the dollar amount we need to get to in order to host it.”
Financially it’s becoming a tougher sell for many teams.
Of the three teams bidding for the 2018 tournament, all have relatively large seating capacities.
The Regina Pats last hosted the tournament in 2001. Currently, however, the team is involved in a lease dispute with Regina Exhibition Association Ltd. (REAL), which operates the Brandt Centre (formerly the Agridome) on behalf of the city. The Brandt Centre seats just under 6,200.
Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre (nee Copps Coliseum), site of a 1990 Memorial Cup regarded as one of the most exciting ever, is the largest venue bidding with a seating capacity listed at 17,383. The Oshawa Generals last hosted the tournament 1987 and have won the championship a number of times, most recently in 2015 in Quebec City. Their Tribute Communities Centre (formerly GM Centre) holds 6,125 for hockey.
The 2017 Memorial Cup will be hosted by the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, who play in the 6,500 WFCU Centre.