Wednesday, 22 February 2012 11:03

Wiebe recalls highlights from his governor years with the Swift Current Broncos

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By Matthew Liebenberg — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Swift Current Broncos board member Ben Wiebe, who is the recipient of the Western Hockey League’s 2011-12 Governors Award, has many highlights from his long years of active involvement with the team and the league.

Wiebe, who is one of the longest-serving members of the Broncos board of directors, received the award during a presentation by WHL Commissioner Ron Robison before the start of the Broncos’ game against the Moose Jaw Warriors Feb. 20.

The honour, which has been awarded since 2004-05, is presented annually to a person who has made a significant contribution to the growth and development of the WHL. It is the highest honour the WHL Board of Governors can bestow on an individual.

Wiebe, who is a chartered accountant, is the current board chairman and managing partner of Stark & Marsh Chartered Accountants in Swift Current.

He said the award was an unexpected honour.

“The list of the elite hockey individuals that have received this award in the past is significant,” he mentioned. “For a chartered accountant to be considered for that award — and to be placed in that elite hockey company — was very much a surprise.”

He felt it was his long-time presence as a representative of a community-owned hockey team at the WHL level that contributed towards the decision to present the award to him.

“I’ve been fortunate in that the Bronco board of directors has entrusted me to represent them for so many years,” he said. “With the same governor over the years delivering the same message I think it built credibility for community-owned teams at the league level.”

According to Wiebe the WHL’s perception about community-owned teams has changed significantly over the years.

“When I arrived at the governor’s table I think the community-based teams were sort of treated like second-class citizens,” he said.

He believes there were two reasons for that situation. The representatives from the community-owned teams changed regularly, which resulted in the delivery of different messages at the governor’s table.

“I’ve been there a long time and I’ve delivered the same message from our organization, so I think I’ve overcome that and community-based teams do get the respect,” he said.

Another reason for that earlier situation was the view that private owners have their own money committed to the team while community-owned teams do not have the same level of personal financial commitment.

“Over the years, they recognized that community-based individuals who don’t have their own money in the game can sometimes make more sound decisions for the organization overall,” he said. “We won’t make short-term decisions for short-term gain whereas sometimes for a private owner their decisions are a little bit tainted.”

In addition to helping change perceptions about community-owned teams, Wiebe said his experience as a member of the WHL Executive Committee was another highlight. He was elected as a member of this committee for three seasons from 2003 to 2006.

He became involved in strategic planning and the development of new standards for the betterment of players, officials and fans. Then as chairman of the finance committee, he spent numerous years sitting on the executive committee as an ex-officio member, which he said was rewarding work.

Wiebe’s involvement with the Broncos started when he became a member of a group of 10 people who wanted to get the team back to Swift Current. It was a difficult process that resulted in a few failed deals before they were finally successful.

They made a deal with Seattle that was turned down at the league level. Their next step was to make a deal with Kamloops, but the community of Kamloops responded and exercised a right of first refusal. They then looked for a team closer to home.

“We had actually purchased the Regina Pats and we were turned down at the league level in moving the Pats to Swift Current,” he recalled. “So it was a very active group and then ultimately we were able to secure the Lethbridge franchise.”

He still remembers the excitement in the community about the return of the Broncos.

“We’ve raised a significant amount of capital within the community,” he said. “We were overwhelmed by the support for season ticket sales at that particular time. It was a great moment for sports in Swift Current.”

He served for eight years (1986-1994) as a director on the Broncos board before being elected as chairman and governor in 1994. He chaired the board for eight seasons (1994-2002) and fulfilled the governor duties for 17 years.

He said his decision to step down in 2011 was a practical one due to taking on a more significant role at Stark & Marsh. He continues to play an active role as a Broncos board member.

He is confident about the future of the Broncos in Swift Current, especially after the good public turnout at the recent town hall meeting.

“I think the community is aware that it’s a huge task to maintain a major junior hockey franchise in Swift Current,” he said. “The community is definitely concerned now and is stepping up.”

According to Wiebe, the WHL model is built on the ability of a team to succeed both on and off the ice, regardless of the size of the community.

“Some teams are doing extremely well but for the most part, all teams have to watch their budgets,” he said.

He considers market size to be the biggest challenge to the survival of teams. Community support is therefore crucial for the success of the Broncos in one of the smallest markets in the league.

“Right now, they wouldn’t even be considered if someone applies to move their franchise to a community the size of ours,” he said. “It would be done if the team ever left here, we wouldn’t be getting one back.”

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