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10-02-2011, 02:07 PM
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Something I wrote on the NOOF in response to a fellow disgruntled Otter's fan;

Good teams seem to run their team from the same manual - so do the bad. I am sympathetic to your situation in Erie. I fully agree that Erie has supported this team well and it has made the OHL a stronger league with their presence.

I grew up watching Windsor Spitfire Hockey – they were an underachieving team for many years. There were tons of excuses, but compared to other teams they were not as successful. Peter Karmanos bought the team and in relatively short order the Spits were a successful team – going to the Memorial Cup. Peter sold the team when Windsor wouldn’t build a new rink and started a team that is now the Plymouth Whalers – arguably the most successful franchise in the OHL over the past 15 years. Windsor went back to their ways until new owners bought it and we know the success they have had.

London, while more successful than Windsor, had not won or even gone to the Memorial Cup – new owners and the results came. In fact you could argue by many measurements that during the Hunter ownership, London has been the most successful franchise.

Transplanted to Sarnia, I became a fan, then a suffering fan, then an agonizing fan. Support in Sarnia was very good and many good people supported the team over the battle cry of ‘next year’ until people started to vocally call for the owner to sell the team. The ownership went so far as to say we ‘could lose the franchise’ – something that I personally called them out on boards like this. My position was this, “Where were they going to move to?” The OHL was not about to let a team leave a well supported market – and they do have the authority to prevent it. Additionally, the OHL desperately tried to find a home for the Ice Dogs if you remember – all sorts of stories, but there was not a slam dunk place to move a team or it would have been done.

Why do I bring this up – because it isn’t going to change until fans stop supporting the team and demand a change. Last year it was reported that Erie’s average attendance was 3237, down 9.9% from the year before. Definitely heading in the wrong direction but still very respectable.

I highlighted the part of your post where you don’t hear from Bassin unless they are winning – same thing was true here in Sarnia. Another similarity are the ‘rumours’ of the team being cheap – very similar stories here. I was attacked for the comments, but knowing several players that had played for other teams confirmed the so called rumours. It still remains to be seen if Sarnia has turned the corner – there had been grumbling for years but it is amazing how much changed in a short amount of time when people started getting publicly vocal, and maybe even more so, the teams most ardent supporters went silent.

Good luck in your quest for decent hockey.

ottergal wrote:
Thank you FanofdO for your very insightful post. The issue in Erie is that we have a GM who also has majority ownership in the team, he answers to no one but himself....just a really bad situation. He also surrounds himself with people that don't challenge him because they know they are gone if they do. Word is that his previous attempts to sell the team have failed because he wants a contract where he can still run the team for another 4 years...can you imagine? So you are right, the only thing we as fans can do is stop buying tickets and hope that gets someone's attention.

Again, right out of the crappy owner's hand book is the chapter on how staff your management team. Show me a team with a bunch of yes men and I will show you a losing team. In fact, as I have pointed out in the past, part of the problem is that you can not win in this league without a sound, hard working management team, working as a team. I know it sounds like a cliche but it is true.

The biggest issue in Erie is that Bassin has a strategy that is a proven winner - as long as you are living 15 years ago. The issue is that competitiveness of teams has improved. As mentioned – Plymouth started the ball rolling – Pete DeBoer took the blue print to Kitchener, the Hunters raised the bar with a family 1-2 punch and the latest duo of Warren Rychel and Bob Boughner has further raised the bar. This is a study in itself on the league, but suffice it say the bar will continue to go higher – teams will need to be very professionally run to be competitive.

I have no reason to doubt the story about Bassin wanting to go with the team – he can continue that but here is where that is headed; there is an inherent value to a franchise. In other words, should a franchise basically lose most of its fan base and has basically bottomed out in revenue, the franchise will still be worth something over $1 million dollars - but much less than it could be. Erie has a decent attendance, but as pointed out, it is dropping, as no doubt other revenues are. There comes a point where operating revenues do not cover expenses - in my opinion, this is somewhere between 2000 and 2300. At some point, should the trend continue, owners are going to see the value of the investment bottom out and they will need to fork money out to cover expenses. Somewhere before it gets here, the owners end up selling... or change.

This was the situation in Sarnia last year – despite what the owners said, they were looking into selling the team – the problem was that they wanted more for the team than anyone was willing to pay. At the same time, after many years of the truth poking them on the forehead, their balance sheet slapped them across the face. Operating revenues were plunging and despite having the first pick overall, it wasn’t enough to rebuild. The game had significantly changed – they needed to change or the franchise value would continue to drop.

An owner surrounding himself with yes men and conning the fans into believing about next year works only as long as the fans let it. Once the fans figure it out, the balance sheet speaks so the owner understands.

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