BCHL Quesnel franchise on the auction block

Money woes spell demise of Millionaires

The BCHL took an off-season hit Tuesday when the Quesnel Millionaires announced the franchise is up for sale.

Millionaires president Bob Sales made the announcement to residents at an information meeting regarding the city’s proposed multi-centre project.

“This has made me sick,” Sales told Quesnel Cariboo Observer reporter Percy Hebert.

“We’re (owners) really bothered by this. We got involved because we wanted to keep the team here.”

Brent Mutis, director of media services for the BCHL, confirmed that the “for sale” sign is up in Quesnel. However, any change in ownership with the franchise would need approval of the league.

The BCHL annual general meeting is scheduled for early June.

Tom Gawryletz, president of the Trail Smoke Eaters, was saddened to hear of the news, adding the current group in Quesnel worked hard to keep the team afloat after buying it in 2009.

“It’s been brewing for a while,” he said. “They’ve lost big money every year.”

“The big problem in Quesnel is the rink,” he added. “It’s very old.”

While the proposed multi-centre project is still alive, there’s a four-year window to study the issue, the time frame before it would be possibly ready for hockey was unrealistic for the people financially backing the team.

For now the fate of the Millionaires remains up in the air. However, one scenario could see the team headed south.

The Western Hockey League’s Chilliwack Bruins are relocating to Victoria, which could create a Lower Mainland vacancy for another junior hockey team. Chilliwack was home to the Chiefs before the franchise moved to Langley and its franchise, the Hornets, moved to Westside in 2006.

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Meanwhile, the loss of Quesnel means only Prince George remains as a northern destination for teams.

“This might mean more travel. We’re going to have to sit down and talk with Prince George. They said last year at the AGM, and word was out of Quesnel’s troubles, that regardless what happened they were going to stay in the league.”

As for the Millionaires’ woes repeating itself in Trail, Gawryletz said the Smokies are a long way from that scenario.

“The small area-based teams that don’t have a tremendous amount of money behind them, especially the community-owned teams, we have to watch every dollar that we spend and we have to raise every dollar.”

The Smokies’ financial picture will be up for public display at the team’s annual general meeting in mid-May.

Gawryletz said the picture is much rosier than last year although “probably still not good enough.”

Hebert explained in the Quesnel Cariboo Observer that the potential departure of the Millionaires would have a noticeable impact on the local economy.

Each BCHL team contributes, on average, $3 million in economic activity to their host communities, Kit Collins, fundraiser with the Mills, said.

The Sandman Inn is one local business that would feel a serious crunch if the Mills do not lace up for the 2011 – 2012 season.

Excluding the playoffs, visiting BCHL teams generated $15,000  in room revenue for the Sandman Inn and another $10,000 in revenue from Denny’s.

The real problem, Sales said told Hebert is that there were too many empty seats on too many nights, this despite “heavy marketing” based on the previous year’s playoff run.

“We just can’t get anybody to walk into the building,” Sales said with a resigned shrug of the shoulders. “That’s our biggest problem.

“One night, after paying security and the referees, we made a $37 deposit,” Sales said to highlight the importance of game day ticket sales.

The playoffs, usually the icing on the cake for a sports franchise, were also a disappointment this year, with less than 400 people in the stands.

Following two money-losing seasons, the Mills investors have decided they can no longer continue to add money to the pot and hence the decision to put the team up for sale.

With files from the Quesnel-Cariboo Observer