WHL teams will need fans in seats to operate next season, says commissioner

The WHL consists of 22 teams spread across Canada’s four western provinces

Western Hockey League teams need their arenas at least half full with spectators next season to operate, according to the league’s commissioner.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down large gatherings of people across North America over fears of a rapid spread of the virus.

Some sports leagues are rebooting, or planning to reboot, with games in empty stadiums and arenas.

Major junior hockey is ticket-driven and doesn’t have a lucrative broadcast rights deal to fall back on, WHL commissioner Ron Robison said Thursday.

“As a spectator-driven league, we need spectators to make it work,” Robison told reporters Thursday on a conference call.

“(We need) to arrive at a capacity that will allow our teams to resume operations. We have set at the present time approximately a minimum of 50 per cent capacity for that to occur.

“In the event we can’t get to a certain spectator level that will allow our teams to operate, we will not be in a position to start play.”

The WHL consists of 22 teams spread across Canada’s four western provinces and the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon.

Six jurisdictions with different levels of infection, health restrictions and re-launch plans, plus a currently closed Canada-U.S. border make planning for a 2020-21 season complicated, Robison acknowledged.

The WHL’s goal is a full 68-game regular season starting Oct. 2, with training camps opening Sept. 15.

“We need all six of our jurisdictions, the four western provinces and obviously Washington and Oregon to be ready to go in order to start our season, so this may in fact require us to consider a later start date,” the commissioner said.

“The start date will dictate our ability to get to our full 68-game schedule. If we get to a January start date, that’s going to be very difficult to accomplish.

“We think we can get that accomplished if we start as late as early December.”

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, when asked about Robison’s comments, could not confirm whether or not fans would be allowed in arenas later this year.

“I do absolutely recognize that there are many leagues, not just hockey, that are dependent on receipts at the gate to keep them going. So, that is a challenge that we’re all facing,” Henry said.

The 18-team Quebec Major Junior Hockey League also wants to play a 68-game schedule starting Oct. 1.

The 20-team Ontario Hockey League has yet to detail its objectives for next season other than commissioner Dave Branch saying in a statement “we plan to drop the puck in the fall and will follow the lead of government and public health agencies on when it is safe to get back on the ice.”

All three major junior leagues under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League had their 2019-20 seasons cut short by the pandemic.

Playoffs and the Memorial Cup in Kelowna, B.C., were cancelled.

The WHL encompasses the most provinces and states of the three leagues.

“We have different circumstances in each of our locations and regions and consequently we’re going to be prepared for that,” Robison said.

“We might have a completely different looking schedule than we traditionally have. Is more divisional play something we’re considering? Absolutely.”

Robison adds that the Canada-U.S. border being closed to non-essential travel until July 21 delays any scheduling for next season.

“The first things we say to our clubs is ‘let’s be patient through this process,’” he said.

“We may be right up until some time in August before we can determine what our schedule looks like.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

WHL

Just Posted

B.C. marine ecologist wants Canada to sink its teeth into shark protection

Gulf Islands scientist says top predator under shocking threat from human behaviour

BOOMER TALK: Bureaucracy can be bad for your health

More care needed for seniors and more support for care aids

Five Vancouver Island First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Nanaimo woman will buy ‘supersonic’ hair dryer after $500,000 lotto win

Debra Allen won $500,000 in July 28 Lotto Max draw

Cougar euthanized after attacking little dog in Qualicum area

Owner freed pet by whacking big cat, but dog didn’t survive the attack

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Sand sculptor creates special eagle head in Qualicum Beach

Kaube fashions work behind Civic Centre

VicPD investigating two stabbings after confrontation in Centennial Square

Two men in hospital, one with life-threatening injuries

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

Victoria woman attacked while taking photo of dog

Concerned woman pushed to the ground, had phone broken in Victoria park area

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

Most Read