The province announced a new initiative Monday in support of junior hockey as Alberta’s WHL teams prepare to kick of their 24-game season on Friday.
Jackpots for Junior Hockey is a province-wide 50/50 draw that will take place each weekend in March, aimed at easing the financial burden being felt by WHL and AJHL clubs; but the announcement didn’t include any government dollars or guaranteed funding.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes missed out on about $177,000 in revenue when the remainder of the 2019-2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19, and the club is projecting a loss of $1.3 million to play the upcoming 24-game season.
“My palms are sweaty every day for the last little while, trying to figure out ways that we’re going to overcome this year’s financial losses,” said Hurricanes GM Terry Huisman.
“Based off the announcement today, and the situation that we announced at the AGM — that we have some financial obstacles that we have to overcome this season — I thought that today’s announcement was significant in turning that in another direction for us.”
The initiative differs drastically from Saskatchewan’s $4-million commitment to junior teams in January, which saw WHL clubs receive $600,000 each.
Huisman says in Alberta, the amount that each of the province’s five WHL and 15 AJHL teams receive through the 50/50 will depend on fans buying in.
“I do think that that number is going to be significant, it’s going to be substantial, and at the end of the day hopefully it… mirrors something like what Saskatchewan was given,” he said.
Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Sharon Aheer echoed the idea that aid for teams is riding on the support of Albertans.
“This is very, very dependent upon Albertans, all of us, going out there and buying our tickets and supporting these teams that we love,” she said.
Aheer emphasized that the 50/50 program was made possible by changes to a provincial policy.
“This initiative is actually as a result of changes that were made to the AGLC in order to allow these organizations to actually be able to have 50/50s,” she said.
“It became a lot more flexible for a lot more organizations to be able to do that, so that’s how this initiative goes forward.”
According to the province, WHL teams in Alberta contribute about $56 million annually to the economy. WHL commissioner Ron Robison says 90 per cent of revenues in the league are generated through ticket sales and local sponsorship.
“You can understand where all of the expenses now are borne by the ownership of those teams,” Robison said.
Robison said he hopes Albertans realize how important junior teams are to their communities, and rally around the draws in March.
“Like anything, we can’t predict what the 50/50 results are going to be, but if the indications are — of any of the 50/50s that have been conducted in association with hockey in this province — we’re looking forward to some great results and some real enthusiasm,” he said.
Huisman says the joint 50/50 still holds some unknowns for teams, including whether WHL and AJHL clubs will receive equal shares, and how much they will be required to give to local charities.
Albertans across the province will be able to buy their tickets online.
The draws will take place every weekend in March, opening each Friday at 9 a.m. and closing each Sunday at 9 p.m.
The tickets can be purchased through the AJHL and WHL websites. The first draw will open on Friday, March 5.
The 2021 regular season begins for Alberta’s central division clubs on Friday.