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Editorial: St. John's ready for a different ballgame

Mile One Centre
Mile One Centre

Another team, another deal, more questions.

Well, it’s not hockey. But the St. John’s City Council is once again backing a professional sports team and a deal with St. john’s Sports and Entertainment.

This time, it’s basketball, and a city news release says, like always, they expect things to go well.

“The deal is not expected to result in any increase in the subsidy currently provided to Mile One Centre and the St. John’s Convention Centre; in fact, it has the potential to be more lucrative than previous agreements, provided the franchise is successful in terms of corporate and public support,” the release says.

The subsidy, of course, is already $2.5 million a year, forecast to rise to $2.7 million in 2018.

But parse that news release careful: “not expected to result in any increase” … “provided the franchise is successful in terms of corporate and public support.”

That sounds a lot like the city might be providing something of a financial safety net.

Success, apparently, is measured by an average attendance of 1,500 paying customers over the franchise’s 20 regular season home games, and $855,000 in suite and sponsorship revenue.

On the surface, it looks more than a little hopeful.

After all, the National Basketball League of Canada’s average attendance is 1,800 a game across all markets — some of that is buoyed by strong attendance in some Atlantic markets.

And there are other red flags.

Recent mentions of contracts with National Basketball League of Canada teams include a 2014 lease improvement for the Windsor Express that removed a rental fee for the city’s WFCU Centre, replacing it with a $3,500 per-game fee, a surcharge on tickets that went to the city, and a 50/50 split between the city and the team on concession revenues. At the time, the team was drawing 900 fans per game. The City of Windsor has made public city staff’s detailed analysis of the proposed agreement with the team (you can read it here - http://bit.ly/2xRgQKK ).

Last year, the team counted 1,200 fans per game, still below its break-even point of 1,500 — and asked the City of Windsor to cut its rental fees in half, to $1,750 per game, meaning the city would lose money on every game. If the cut didn’t come, the team argued it might shut down. The city turned down the cut.

“I can’t see that the taxpayer would subsidize a business,” the Windsor Star quoted Windsor Coun. Ed Sleiman as saying. He noted that the city made a total of $33 last year from its rental agreement with the Express. “We’re providing it to them at cost.”

The message in our town?

Apparently, buy tickets, or risk paying in your taxes.

It sure would be nice to know the whole deal — but probably, even city councilors haven’t seen that yet.

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