It's been quite the adventurous week for the Abbotsford Heat. First, head coach Jim Playfair's little flip-out goes viral and makes him the craziest coach since Robbie Ftorek threw a bench on the ice. Now, there comes news about a bigger problem for the Heat than a crazy coach and horrific name.
The Vancouver Province reports that the City of Abbotsford has guaranteed the Heat $5.7M in annual expenses, regardless of the fan support. With all the troubles the area is having in terms of road repairs (city said the budget is $18M short) and crime-rate (tops in Canadian cities with populations between 100k and 500k), the money is being spent to keep the team afloat in an area that hasn't been proven to support a professional team. With the $82M arena being built on taxpayer money, it's a shock more people aren't coming out to see what their taxes are actually going towards. For the 7,000 seat capacity arena, the Heat are only filling an average of 3,900 of that this season, their first in the AHL since moving from Moline, Illinois. Even down the line, there's a guarantee for the Heat should they not be able to meet expectations next season, with $2M being set aside already for it. The City Manager has said that it's a necessity in order to keep AHL hockey in the city.
That brings up the interesting conundrum of how much is too much when trying to keep a team afloat. Most cities don't give guarantees, which is why there's no Quebec or Winnipeg NHL teams anymore, so said Vince Dimanno, president of the Abbotsford Ratepayers Association. But even with hockey being Canada's game and being very embraced throughout the country-- is there a chance that it's not for everywhere??
The fundamental flaw for the Heat is that their the furthest West team in the AHL. They are 1,387 miles West of Winnipeg, home of the Moose, and 2,305 miles Northwest of San Antonio, home of the Rampage. And those are the closest teams to them. With a league where the teams are very populated in the Northeast of the US; the travel cost alone put the team in the hole. Couple that with the lack of attendance, which could be related to the lack of promotion the team has been getting; and you have yourself a huge recipe for disaster.
Yet, even with all that; should a city really put their finances into a fledgling hockey team, just to keep them here and make them not look too foolish for their blunder in reasoning. I mean, they built a huge arena just for this team and they don't want to let that go to waste....like a some Midwestern US locations that have an expensive arena with no tenant. The next biggest arena in Abbotsford is only 400 seats, which shows you the big gap between teams in the area. If a city had to go all out in order to build an arena and attract a team there when there wasn't too much of an outcry (as far as I know) for a pro club-- then the mistake was happening from the word go. Especially when you have Chilliwack 23 miles West of the city and they have a WHL team there, who isn't shabby and will provide just as exciting hockey.
There was plenty of questions when it came to the move from Illinois to Abbotsford, but it's just another in a long line of questionable things when it comes to minor league placement for the Calgary Flames. Whether or not this will end in disaster after a couple of years like it has in the past, it remains to be seen. It may not happen, especially when the city itself is funding the team to stay-- which is saving the Flames' asses in terms of keeping a team afloat.