Not a good year

Participants in the Swift Current Broncos annual general meeting speak informally after the conclusion of proceedings at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex, Sept. 29.

The Swift Current Broncos reported a net loss of $791,000 for the 2019-20 financial year due to a combination of factors and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details about the team’s hockey and business operations during the 2019-20 season were discussed during the annual general meeting at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex, Sept. 29.

“There's lots of different things that go into that number, but we're all in this situation and we're not the only team,” Broncos Board Chair Trent McCleary said during a media interview after the meeting. “It’s a fight to survive. And that’s where we need this community’s support. We need the fans. … We can't wait to be playing hockey in front of everybody. So the numbers aren’t good right now and it’s like that for a lot of teams and it's a lot of sports. We’re just waiting to hopefully get through this pandemic and then hopefully we’ll be able to get back on the ice as soon as possible.”

He acknowledged that it will take time to recover from this setback and there are many uncertainties due to the pandemic, but he remained cautiously optimistic.

“We don’t think we have to make this up in one year, because the 2020-21 season, we haven’t even started it yet and look at what it looks like,” he said. “So there’s lots of challenges, lots of things that are going to challenge us as an organization, as a community. But we’re not the only ones. You look at baseball, you look at soccer, you look at everything. We're in a good position to survive.”

He felt the Broncos will be able to recover in the future when fans can return to the stands, and their goal will then be to get as many fans as possible back to the game.

“We think that when we’re allowed to go back, there’ll be a pent-up demand for live entertainment, and that’s what we’re really hoping for and we hope to do it as soon as possible,” he said. “As soon as we get approval from the health authorities and from the government, we’ll be doing whatever we can to continue hockey.”

The team was expecting a challenging financial year in the second year of transition from the championship year, but the pandemic and other setbacks had an even bigger impact on the financial bottom line.

The Canadian Hockey League settled a class-action lawsuit over the payment of minimum wages to players, which had an impact on all teams affiliated with the league. The education scholarship liability of the Broncos was higher due to increased use of scholarships available to players over the last three years, and there were unexpected reductions in supplementary revenue streams. These factors helped to increase the overall loss for the year by over $470,000.

The average paid attendance during the 2019-20 season was 1,951 per game, which was less than the attendance of 2,377 per game during the 2018-19 season. The season ticket holder base dropped from 2.108 at the end of the 2018-19 season to 1,673 at the end of the 2019-20 season.

The average game day ticket sales were about 24 per cent lower in 2019-20 and the overall ticket usage of all tickets decreased by about four per cent.

Overall gate attendance dropped from 53,904 in 2018-19 to 39,605 in 2019-20, which had an impact on other revenue streams such as alcohol and concessions, merchandise, and fundraising.

Local corporate partnerships and suites commitment have remained strong, and McCleary considered the ongoing support of the corporate community to be a highlight from the discussion at the annual general meeting. There is an understanding in the business community that the Broncos are an integral part of the fabric of the community.

“We want to be here, we want to be sustainable for the long term as we always have,” he said. “That's one of our mandates to be sustainable. And so we have lots of community partners that have stepped up and said yes, when you guys get back on the ice, we'll be there. And that's great to hear in some really dark times in society.”

Broncos Director of Business Operations Nathan MacDonald felt the team’s future rebuilding efforts will benefit from sound decisions that were made in the past, when the team had a strong balance sheet due to successful years. This will be helpful during the ongoing uncertainties due to the pandemic.

“Next year will be another really challenging year, I don't think there's any way to get around it,” he said. “Our league and our team and everyone involved is working really hard in trying to figure out how to come back in a sustainable way and in a safe way, and in a way that is still engaging for fans and we're still able to maintain those relationships with fans. So it's a really complex situation that we find ourselves in, but I think it's going to be the years afterwards that we're going to really have to try to recoup a lot of the damage that's been done by the pandemic and the situation that we find ourselves in now.”

Cash flow will remain a challenge in the near future, because the number of fans that will be allowed in the stands when the new season starts will be limited. They are working on a couple of projects to assist them with income.

“There's a couple of things we want to do going forward, but our priority is to get back to hockey and get back to our core business model, which is entertaining fans and bringing the community together around hockey,” he said. “So that's sort of what our primary focus is on now. Certainly, we've been taking advantage of some of the federal subsidies and things like that have been a big help and something that sustains us as a non-profit.”

MacDonald felt positive about the successful implementation of the team’s new technology and communication formats during the past year to keep fans informed about the team, which included online streaming of game-day audio broadcasts.

“We adapted to the new changes and implemented the new technologies and stuff that we had,” he said. “We were quite happy with our communication strategy. We thought it did a really good job. … I think a lot of fans enjoyed the new video screen and the podcast was excellent. Overall, I thought our communication in terms of writing and posting on the website and social media was all really exceptional and we got a lot of positive comments about it.”

The Broncos concluded the regular season in 2019-20 with a 10-48-2-3 record, and the team finished last in the Central Division.

The team made 13 trades during the season, and selected 11 players from the 2020 WHL Bantam draft as well as two players from the WHL’s new US draft.

The Broncos selected two players from the CHL Import draft. The team signed five 2004 born players from the 2019 draft class and five 2005 born players from the 2020 draft class.

“Obviously for us, we didn't have a lot of highlights last year, other than some of the young guys getting into the line-up,” Broncos Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Dean Brockman said after the annual general meeting.

He felt the team continued to make progress towards reaching various rebuilding goals that will have future benefits for on-ice performance.

“I think as a coach versus a GM, you're always trying to weigh those things out and you have different goals for different sides of the fence,” he said. “Obviously as a coach, you want to win every game and was that realistic last year? No, but you're always expecting to do better and I think maybe we didn't win more games or anything of that nature, but I thought we were in more games, which is great, but it's still not the win. So you're not happy with it at the end of the day. You put the GM cap on and I thought we got to accomplish a lot more than what we set out to do and we're pretty happy with all the kids that we got signed from our '05 draft class, which was really key for us.”

He is looking forward to having some of the draft picks in the line-up and to have younger players on the ice when the new season starts.

“The last couple of year we haven't been the youngest team,” he said. “So it will be good to have a bunch of young guys that you can work with and develop and get into action. … I've always said from day one you have to have four of your own draft class in the same group in order to be successful and this year would be kind of the first year. So you want to be optimistic, because we feel we've got some real good young players and they're going to be exciting to watch in the future.”

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