Klippers, town council discuss how to balance the books

Junior hockey team looks for help from the town; also will take proposals to the SJHL meeting

Kenneth Brown
of The Clarion

The Iron Horse Kindersley Klippers are experiencing challenges, as several junior hockey teams do, and the team is looking for further support from the town.

Brett Sautner, the team’s president, appeared before town council at a meeting on March 26. The other members of the delegation were Clint Peterson, vice-president, and Geoff Grimwood, the team’s general manager and head coach.

Mayor Rod Perkins, who once served as president of the Klippers, welcomed the delegation to the meeting. Sautner said he had a plan when he became president two years ago to run the team like a business to determine if the community could continue to support a team.

He told council after two years of helping to run the team, he believes the community could support the team. He said the team was short about $6,000 from the 2016-17 season and there will be a comparable loss after the 2017-18 season, but he still believes it could work.

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Sautner said the Klippers are able to break even or come close based on the revenues and support it has in place. He has looked at all aspects of the organization, including attendance.

He said game attendance is not bad when compared to other teams in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Sautner said he has looked at the difference in attendance for weekday games and weekend games. He noted that the team would prefer more of its games on weekends, so the concern will be mentioned to the SJHL.

The team has made two proposals to the league, he said. The first is for players to pay for billets instead of the team because it’s not a hockey-related item and the second is playing more weekend games. Sautner said attendance is 30 per cent higher on weekends.

“I’ve cut costs over the last two years,” he said, noting that Grimwood could attest to the cuts even though the cuts might not be popular with the coach. “I wanted to make sure that before I came here, I had all my ducks in a row as far as our expenses.”

He noted that the team has made proposals to council before and one was to charge the team a $900 flat rate for games, but not to charge for practice during non-peak hours on weekdays. Sautner said the team is still charged for its spring camp, fall camp, hockey schools and practices during peak hours.

The team president sent information to council about the economic benefit the team provides to the community. He said the Klippers and visiting teams combined spend $700,000 in the community each year, or about $140 per each resident.

He said the team spent $48,000 for ice time in 2016 and the cost was reduced to $36,000 in 2017 thanks to the new arrangement with the town. The team is anticipated to spend $36,000 in 2018. He asked what the town is willing to do to help keep the team in Kindersley.

Sautner said the team is about $100,000 in debt after being about $250,000 in debt roughly three years ago, so he believes the team would be sustainable if it could get back to ground zero with respect to its debt.

He spoke about a situation where people are putting up their own credit cards to help pay for expenses and the people are volunteers. Sautner said he would like to continue to pay off the team’s debt to the town by giving the town its game-day revenue and other in-kind services.

The team brings in about $10,000 in game-day revenue, so he would like to give it to the town going forward to help cover debts. The president said the team is willing to have players contribute time working in the community to pay off other debt. Sautner said he values the combination of game-day revenue and in-kind services at $25,000 per year.

If the town works with the idea, the team could be debt free in three years or even less if the league agrees to get players to pay for billets, he explained. Several teams in the SJHL are facing similar challenges, he said.

Sautner said the team and junior hockey had a profound effect on his life. He worked at Speedy Glass when he played for the Klippers and it’s how he got a start in the glass industry, and he met his wife after being traded to Flin Flon. He noted that it’s not his team or the board’s team, but rather it’s the community’s team.

The mayor said he has been through challenges with the SJHL and he believes something has got to give. Councillor Gary Becker said the concerns are a league problem, so he doesn’t believe it should be the town’s responsibility to help. Becker also questioned the entertainment value.

Councillor Dean Galbraith said he’s not opposed to any solutions, but he wants to see what happens at the league’s upcoming governors meeting in June before making any decision about whether the town will help out. He said he wants to see if the league steps up.

Council members commended the team for its efforts but told the delegation no promises could be made at the moment.

Sautner was questioned about regional marketing strategies and future strategies.

Bernie Morton, the town’s chief administrative officer, said he believes the team and town should work together to convince the league that changes are needed. While no decisions were made at the meeting, the town agreed to write a letter of support for the team’s proposals to take to the league meeting.

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