The Penticton Vees are going nowhere, according to their top co-owner.
Of course, Vees managing partner Ronald Vincent was not talking about the BCHL hockey team’s playoff chances, which, with a regular season record of 36-17-2-2, look pretty good.
Instead, he was referring to rumours that when the team’s three-year contract to play at the South Okanagan Events Centre expires at the end of their playoff season the team might be moving back to Memorial Arena or even out of town.
Indeed, Vincent is in town this week to help negotiate the team’s continued presence at the SOEC after close to 50 years of playing in the city.
The contract, as it is currently structured, has Global Spectrum paying the club $650,000 a year ($675,000 this season) regardless of attendance or revenues. But both have failed to hit anticipated numbers, leading some on city council to criticize the deal.
However, Vincent said the Vees are just as unhappy with the contract structure as the city is, and would like the new agreement to give the team more control, risk and potential reward over both its marketing and sales.
Under the expiring contract both are handled by Global Spectrum, but Vincent said Vees ownership feel the team can do a better job.
“The contract has tied our hands and it has created a disconnect between the team and the community,” he said. “We need to do a better job with the community support. We need to get out there, let the community know that we need them and find out what it will take to get them back again.”
The first thing Vincent said the team did was hire a ticket manager.
“We want somebody to be a Penticton Vee, wear the Penticton shirt, knock on doors, call up people and let people know that we want their business,” he said. “Let them know that we want them to come out, experience the entertainment we are putting on the ice and be part of the team.”
Vincent added that once the new contract is finalized the team will ramp up its marketing department.
According to Vincent, there are two options for the structuring of the new contract. One would see the Vees lease the SOEC outright while collecting virtually all the revenues the team generates. The other would be a hybrid of that model and the current one where both risk and reward would be shared.
Vincent said whichever formula they agree on will have to include a retain rate for the current sponsorship, club seats and luxury suites, many of which will be up for renewal this year.
“We have numbers from both sides of what we would be comfortable with and what they would be comfortable with, but the big variable would be the attendance,” said Vincent. “Expenses never seem to go down. So if we stay the same and just eek out at 1,400 or 1,500 average (attendees) per game, we’ll only get so much revenue, and expenses will have to stay under it. But that is the hard part because that is a what if.”
The biggest challenge is the large cost of operating a building that was built for Penticton’s future population and economy but in which the Vees must play in during present realities.
“We have to make sure we don’t get priced out of the market,” Vincent said. “You can throw a big number at us and say it should be $150,000 to lease the building, but it is not going to happen. No junior hockey team can afford that. Not even a WHL team.
“I think a comparable lease rate, if you look at Salmon Arm, Vernon or some of the other teams that are in the area, is typically between $6,500 to $7,500 a year all in … for 30 home games plus playoffs.”
Vincent said he is confident a reasonable agreement can be negotiated.