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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Faulty janitorial equipment likely caused Saanich school fire

Saturday morning fire damaged roof of Strawberry Vale Elementary

Greater Victoria records highest unemployment in history with 11 per cent

Past peak was 7.8 per cent more than a decade ago, according to South Island Prosperity Partnership

Garth Homer Society in Saanich turns lemons into lemonade with online programs

Victoria disability organization sets up online programs and learning tools in wake of COVID-19

Human behaviour likely to deter birds from Esquimalt Lagoon, survey suggests

More Great Blue Herons spotted, fewer mallard ducks seen

Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre to host a trio of acts

Aaron Pritchett, Alex Cuba and Valdy will each play four shows

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Most Read