Smoke Eaters AGM: Rising attendance helps mitigate bottom line

The Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey Club Society held their annual general meeting on Tuesday at the Trail Memorial Centre.

The Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey Club Society held their annual general meeting on Tuesday at the Trail Memorial Centre, and despite another financial loss of over $70,000, the news wasn’t all bad.

“We made a lot of steps last year hockey wise, financially there was some improvement but one big headache was our bus, and it cost us $35,000 and when push comes to shove it’s money out the window,” said Smoke Eater president Tom Gawryletz.

When the team bus broke down on the road in mid-January, it proved one of the biggest setbacks of the year for the Smoke Eaters. Not only was it out of commission for six weeks, to fix and hire an alternative mode of transportation cost an estimated $35,000, a considerable and unexpected expense. In addition, revenue that may have been generated through bus rental was also lost taking a $10,000 hit, from the $31,200 raised last season.

“Not much you can do about it. Take that $35,000 off the bottom line, sure you lost money but it doesn’t look half as bad.”

On the up-side, the Smoke Eaters’ attendance figures shot up averaging 915 fans per game, an improvement on the 823 averaged in 2014.  In addition, the Smoke Eaters 2015 annual revenue climbed by more than $26,000 as the team grossed over $452,000.

“It was good to see the increases at the rink, attendance wise,” he said. “We attribute that to some of the work the booster club did, and Steve (Robinson) had a lot of young kids from minor hockey in the rink.”

While the on-ice product failed to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year, the team was much improved and with four local players and 10 commits, the Smoke Eaters played entertaining hockey. The quality on the ice was reflected in a modest increase in gate receipts, $54,587, up $4,200 from 2014, and game night sales at the concessions, beer garden, special events, and Smokies merchandise jumped almost $23,000 from last season to $145,468.

This year’s fundraising efforts proved crucial as the Smoke Eaters Steak and Prawn banquet, the 50/50 progressive and 50/50 game night draws added over $33,000 to the coffers. Season ticket sales remained relatively unchanged at just over $39,000, while hockey camps garnered an extra $5,000 this year, neting $22,493 as opposed to $17,539 in ‘14.

Gawryletz attributed much of the increase revenue to the countless free tickets given away to help attract more fans, particularly young ones, but it’s likely not a strategy that will continue.

“We gave out thousands and thousands of tickets to schools and season’s ticket holders to distribute to their friends, and they all came to the rink, and when the rink’s full everybody spends money.”

In the final game of the season, close to 1,400 fans attended, and while game-night sales were one of the highest of the season, only 60 fans paid at the gate.

“If I was to say to you that we were going to open the doors every game and let everybody in free, I’d be all for it if you can guarantee me that kind of money, but we all know that won’t happen.”

As for expenses, Salaries dropped over $16,000 from a high of $109,000 in 2014, and equipment costs were down about $8,000, yet nearly everything else, travel, administration, billeting, player costs, and ice rentals all had marginal increases. In the end, expenses came to $526,772, resulting in a $73,851 loss.

“The key for us, Steve (Robinson) and I and Rick (Basso) and anyone that joins the board, we have to figure out how to raise more money, not cut more money,” said Gawryletz. “Our expenses have pretty much stayed the same for the last five or six years, right around that $500,000 dollar mark. The cost of fuel, meals, transportation, hotels – everything is going up gradually and we’re doing the best we can to keep it in line.”

Looking forward, Gawryletz and the executive intend to find more ways to help generate income, with the realization that a winning team and a playoff run would go a long way to buoy the bottom line.

“We have to find a way to generate $50-60,000 more per year, that’s what it comes down to, whether it’s people in the seats, fundraisers, it doesn’t matter what it is that’s the number we need, we can’t continue on operating with these kinds of deficits every year or we won’t be around much longer. It’s going to be our job to try to find that money.”

In other business, Jack Beard will step down from the executive after years of service, while Ken Siddall will step up to take his place. The remaining executive consists of Gawryletz, Robinson, and Rick Basso.

Laurel Calhoun will return as the team’s athletic therapist, and, as reported earlier, Ryan Donald has been hired as assistant coach, while the coaching staff of Nick Deschenes and assistants Barry Zanier and Craig Clair will also return.

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