Crunching the numbers on the annual economic impact the Kootenay Ice brings Cranbrook

It is worth fighting to keep the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook

A generic ice hockey ice rink stadium with a frozen surface and a hockey puck under illuminated floodlights.

How would Cranbrook be affected if Kootenay Ice left town? — allanswart/iStock/Thinkstock

I sit in the cavernous Western Financial Place, not another soul is in place, and you could hear a sponge puck drop at centre ice.  The last moving truck has just left, loaded with equipment and memories. The Kootenay Ice have waved goodbye – forever—to Cranbrook.

Wait? I do hear something in the distance and it is getting louder.  It's the sound of my tax bill ramping up. Now that the major tenant of  Western Financial Place has left, the tax burden will now fall directly on the shoulders of resident property and business owners in town.  That’s not counting the money the City will probably have to refund Western Financial because what corporate sponsor wants their moniker on an empty venue?

That’s why I believe the No.1 economic development, retention or enhancement initiative that the City of Cranbrook, the chamber of commerce and the business community at large must undertake is keeping the WHL franchise in Cranbrook.  It is, in my mind, such a high priority that it should be the sole focus of the City’s economic development department – 24/7.

I applaud Cranbrook’s Mayor Lee Pratt for giving an impromptu report on the Kootenay Ice situation at a recent Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he appealed to chamber members to buy season passes. Is the next step establishing a special task force to develop a strategic plan and implementing it as soon as possible to turn this dire situation around?

You can hardly blame owner Jeff Chynoweth for wanting to sell and/or possibly move the team – the Cranbrook love affair with the Kootenay Ice has seemingly dwindled.  Attendance was down in the 2015/16 season another 13 per cent, after already plummeting by  double digits in recent years. The Kootenay Ice sit at the bottom of the league in attendance, with an average of 1,957 per game.

Hockey is business—a business with great entertainment and economic value attached to it.  Jeff Chynoweth and his family, or any other prospective owner, simply must be able to make money in what is the second smallest WHL franchise in Western Canada.  To do so they obviously need more fan support, city support, business and corporate support and league support.

So what is the economic impact of having the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook?  Specific numbers are hard to come by so I’ve done some ballpark estimates on the probable economic impact of the Ice based on an average of 2,000 attendance per game.

Pre-game restaurant dining:  Let’s suppose 25 per cent (500 diners) go out for a meal before a game and spend an average of $30 per person on food and beverages:
500 x $30 x 36 home games  = $540,000

Post-game drinks and snacks: Let’s say 15 per cent (300 patrons) go out for drinks and a snack after a game and spend an average of $25 per person on drinks and food:
300 x $25 x 36 homes games = $270,000

At-the-game drinks and snacks: Let’s say on average 2,000 fans spend $20 at the game for food and beverages:
2,000 x $20 x 36 home games = $1,440,000

Arena usage/rental: Though I don’t know what the Ice pay in usage/rental fees, this is probably a pretty modest guesstimate.  Let’s say $3,000 per game. (Chances are it’s more than this once you factor in practice time, office rental, etc.): 36 home games x $3,000 = $108,000

Staff expenditures in the community:  The Kootenay Ice have a staff of approximately 13 people; let’s say they on average spend $20,000 per year of their expendable income in the Cranbrook marketplace: 13 x $20,000 = $260,000

Expenditures by visiting teams: Out-of-town teams visit Cranbrook 36 times in a season.  Let’s say they spend on average one night in local hotels, and spend $100 per player and coach, with each team averaging 35 personnel: 36 x $100 X 35 = $126,000

Souvenirs and merchandise:  Let’s say 75 per cent of the fans (1,500 people) buy $50 each worth of team souvenirs or merchandise over the course of a season: 1,500 x $50 = $75,000

Player expenditures: The 22 Kootenay Ice players are unpaid, but do receive a monthly stipend and a generous education fund for future use. However, they do spend quite generously on day-to-day items, like any other consumer. Let’s say their typical season is 210 days long and they spend an average of $30 per day in the community – on things like food, entertainment, haircuts etc.: 22 players x 210 days x $30 per day = $138,600

Operating budget (goods, services and equipment etc): I don't purport to know what it take to operate a WHL franchise but it looks like a pretty expensive proposition. I am going to throw out a number just under $2 million, agood portion of which is spent locally: $ 1,750,000

Training camp expenditures: With 40 or more young players and their families in town for training camp every fall, this is an extra infusion of cash into the local economy. I'll go out on a limb and do an estimate again: Five days x 40 player x $100 per day = $20,000

Arena staff on game nights:  Concession and restaurant workers, ticket takers and  access control staff are just a few of the people who are employed every game night:
50 people x $39 per average wage (three hours of work at $13 per hour) x 36 game nights = $70,200

Charitable community donations: The Kootenay Ice raise and contribute a great deal in charitable donations. The game day 50/50 draw raises some $90,000 alone, plus other charitable activities raise that amount again: $180,000

Total Economic Impact: $4,977,800

I know it would be easy to argue that my numbers are way off, but for argument’s sake this list adds up to $4,977,800 of direct economic benefit to the City of Cranbrook, area businesses (particularly the food and beverage sector) and to a wide variety of other organizations every year. Clearly, based on these numbers, the Kootenay Ice are a strong economic driver in the community and if you look at the 18 years the team has been in Cranbrook their total economic contribution to the community and region adds up to over $88 million. (Though all these numbers are my estimates they were looked at by a team official and deemed to be fairly accurate.)

Of course, this is not even factoring in the publicity and goodwill the Kootenay Ice bring the entire region and the City every time they visit one of the other WHL cities across Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest or get mentioned in innumerable media reports. As they say in the credit card commercial—this kind of exposure is priceless.

So instead of sitting in an empty arena, listening to moving vans carry the Kootenay Ice away – l hope from a dollars and cents perspective Cranbrook can bring back the enthusiasm, excitement and pride of having a WHL franchise call their city home. It makes sense on so many levels. It certainly does on a positive economic impact level – just shy of $5 million a year is worth fighting to keep!

Keith Powell

Keith Powell is the publisher and founder of Kootenay Business magazine which is part of the Koocanusa Publications group. View all of Keith Powell’s articles

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