WHL’s Giants president worried about financial impact of pandemic

Gene Principe and Sam Cosentino discuss if the 2021 World Juniors are in jeopardy of being cancelled or postponed.

The Western Hockey League announced earlier this week it will delay the beginning of the 2020-21 season beyond its targeted start date of Jan. 8.

Vancouver Giants president Ron Toigo is concerned about the short- and long-term financial impact the pandemic will have on junior hockey and communities in British Columbia and across the country if more game are lost.

“The economic impact for the province – I think junior hockey generates north of $70 million annually when you take in all the communities with the BCHL and Western Hockey League,” Toigo told Perry Solkowski and Bik Nizzar Wednesday on Sportsnet 650.

The WHL suspended the 2019-20 campaign in mid-March shortly after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, then ultimately announced the cancellation of the regular season, playoffs and 2020 Memorial Cup that was scheduled to take place in Kelowna, B.C.

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It’s been speculated that significant revenue losses could result in some owners in junior hockey eventually selling their teams.

“At some point there’s going to have to be some government support for these things to survive and without that I think you’re going to see some failures across the country from Tier II to Major Junior to Junior B to all levels of it,” Toigo said. “It’s inevitable.”

Toigo said his team lost half a million dollars due to the cancellation of the 2019-20 season.

Even in Canada, where hockey is extremely popular, junior hockey isn’t a cash cow.

Toigo explained that junior teams will typically begin to break even late in the regular season and then if all goes well you can generate some extra revenue in the post-season if the team qualifies.

“People don’t get into this to make a living, per se,” Toigo said. “You like the competitive side of it, the community involvement … but as far as economics go, these aren’t great models from an economic perspective. Now, when you take away all the revenue but keep most of the expenses it’s not a good scenario for any business.

“You might not see it this year, but it might take a year or two where a lot of these things will come to fruition and it’s not going to be a pretty picture.”

Toigo added that he’s hopeful a WHL regular season schedule would consist of more than 30 games, however those decisions will be made at a future date.

“We feel it’s an obligation on our part to deliver a season at some point in time for however many games it is to make sure that we don’t impede in the development of where these kids are headed.”

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