There were rumblings back in August that Canucks owner Franceso Aquilini and Canucks Sports & Entertainment was attempting to purchase the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre from the city of Abbotsford.
The arena opened in May 2009 at a cost of $66.2 million and has been a money loser the past three years.
Under the ten-year agreement between Abbotsford and the Calgary Flames, who own the Heat, the city guarantees the Flames annual revenue of $5.7 million. Any revenue generated in excess that number would be split between the two parties.
Unfortunately for the city, they have not been generating that kind of revenue. In the 2010-11 season, Abbotsford ended up paying the Flames $400,000 in taxpayer money, and last year the number was $1.3 million.
As pointed out by the National Post, it has been a struggle for the Heat to connect with locals given the team has been branded to look like the baby Flames. The “Heat” moniker, colours, and the jersey are all reminders that the team is the minor league affiliate of the Flames.
The Flames have made no attempts to make the Heat a successful business.
Even though the Canucks affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, are located in a Chicago suburb and the two cities’ NHL teams have one of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL right now, locals have backed the team.
The Wolves have their own name, colour scheme, and jerseys, but most importantly the team signs top-level AHL talent that fans can get behind like Darren Haydar, Matt Climie, Mark Matheson, Michael Davies, and Nathan Longpre. Fans are able to connect to the team as a result.
The Canucks are currently in the final year of a two-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Wolves and given the suddenness of the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, the Canucks had little opportunity to explore other affiliation arrangements.
In order to align themselves with the Heat, the Canucks would have to purchase the team from the Flames. However, there is little incentive for the Flames to sell the team.
The Flames are guaranteed revenue, Abbotsford has been the closest affiliate they have had in franchise history, and there is finally some stability in their minor league system after stops in Omaha and Quad City.
Perhaps the Flames should do an act of charity and put the taxpayers of Abbotsford out of their misery. It is an unhealthy relationship and It is only going to get worse, not better.
Even with the injection of talent in the AHL during the lockout, the Heat saw a combined 6256 fans take in their two-game series against the Peoria Rivermen. To put that in perspective, last night’s game against the Chicago Wolves brought in a Canucks partisan crowd and 6871 fans to the gate.The ideal situation would see the Abbotsford Heat move to Saskatoon and the Canucks bring in another AHL team to Abbotsford. There have been rumblings the city of Saskatoon is seeking to bring in a NHL team to the Credit Union Centre.
Saskatoon could follow the Winnipeg model and bring in an AHL team, prove it self as a professional hockey market before attempting to bring in a NHL team via relocation 10-15 years down the road.
Thunder Bay, Ontario is another Canadian city trying to bring in an AHL team, so that could be another possible destination.