Does the NLSHL Have a Future?

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Updated: January 15, 2013

Does the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League have a future?

Be careful before you answer this question because the answer is not a simple one.  It involves more than what happens on the ice and is influenced by the varying views of many involved with both the game and league.  The existence of the league is not a given.

Off the ice, one has to look no further than the influence that Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador has had on the game.  Its failed experiment with the Herder Memorial Championship in the 2011-12 season sent a clear message from the fans to both the league executive and HNL that fan support was essential.  This move by HNL sent a different message that revenue was more important.  It looks like the fans won out.

Fan support is also essential for the success of the individual teams.  Take a look at what happened to the Royals.  Team management packed up the team and moved it 50 km up the highway to Deer Lake to reduce costs and to garnish more fan support.  One the surface, it appears to have worked but the numbers attending the games are on par with those attending at the Pepsi Centre.  The only difference is reduced operating costs for the Royals.  Numbers are down in other venues as well.  Clarenville is no longer selling out each game.  Is this the sign of things to come?

This highlights another issue for the league as a whole – that of economics.  Running a team in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League is an expensive proposition.  To be competitive teams have huge budgets that cover import travel, living expensives and salaries of the players.  Operating a team requires deep pockets and it has become commonplace for game revenues to be subsidized by fundraising twelve months of the year.  Taking on the financial responsibilities of a team is not for the faint of heart.  Even the successful organizations in recent days such as the Clarenville Caribous and the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts have to cope with deficits at the end of each season and would not survive if the volunteers/team executive viewed the operation of their team as anything but a twelve-month venture.  Sponsorship plays a big part in the economics but even that is a struggle in small towns.

Contributing to the rising costs for teams is the travel expenses, not from venue to venue, but bringing in players from out of province (imports and locals).  Sure it is great to have access to great talent, but there are great players locally that could fill the roles.  The teams have to look beyond the idea that “locals can’t compete” at this level and realize there is something wrong with that attitude.  The local talent pool has depth but many opt to not play simply because of the commitment that is required or because they are treated like sub-par players.  For the teams to survive, they have to acknowledge and utilize this local talent and establish a player development system that exists in the minor ranks first.

The league itself is not doing anything to promote its product.  There is nothing making the game fan/family friendly.  There is very little marketing or public relations occurring.  It is not as simple as “build it and they will come”.  There has to be an effort to promote the teams, promote the league and make the games an event that people want to come to.  Instead, they have taken very much a protectionism attitude, attacked those organizations, websites and individuals who have provided more exposure to the game than ever before.  There has to be a definite attitude change.

Does this league have a future?

Sure it does … but there has to be some changes.  It will not survive until some of the larger picture items are addressed and attitudes change.

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