Owner's Blog: A Rookie No Longer

Sep 27, 2011 - 07:29 EDT

One of the real traditions around an OHL hockey team are the typical "rookie duties". As I attended our home opener this past Saturday night (an awesome energy in the Yardmen that night by the way!) I was reminded of this when our Bulls' rookies stayed out after warm up and picked up the pucks..this is one of those few but important ways rookies get involved and progress their way onto a team. I always hope that as rookies become veterans they keep those memories of such rookie duties entrenched and feel a little bit of empathy for the guys that carry them out. Wishful thinking??...maybe so. 

Seeing the guys out there picking up pucks brought back memories of our early years of being an owner in this league. It was a completely new and eye opening experience. The only rookie duty was the expectation that you keep pretty quiet until you had proved you would be around for awhile. 

In those first few seasons of owning the Bulls we could claim "rookie status" if we made mistakes....but with 7 years of team ownership behind us, those days are long gone. Learning the business of junior hockey has taken time. We still can't claim to be experts in any way, especially in a league with so many smart and savvy operators. I am often asked about owning a team in what is considered a small or marginal marketplace like Belleville. My view is that such a market brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. The challenges in a small market are likely pretty obvious to our readers. The opportunities come considering that when a smaller market has an OHL team (and there are many that want one, believe me) it is unique and the team generally takes a higher profile. This can be a benefit for generating community wide enthusiasm. 

As I’ve gained more experience and met more of the OHL owners and operators through the years, I can say that across the board, they are solid and hardworking people who take their goal of  developing young men on and off the ice more seriously than ever before. It’s always interesting to hear various views about the wealth and greed of owners in a league like ours. I'm sure that several teams in our league make pretty good money but as people form their opinions on this, I just hope they recognize that these are businesses that employ lots of people, create a positive economic impact in their marketplace, and provide fantastic value for money entertainment. The team budgets are not insignificant and the investment made per player each year is something people may never fully consider in the overall picture. Frankly speaking, it's a business that has its share of risk. But this might be a topic for another blog. 

Here in Belleville, like all OHL teams, selling tickets and building sponsorship relationships are the most important factors for business success. To state the obvious, it's a lot easier doing all this when the team is winning! However, in smaller markets an OHL business has to be about more than just running an OHL team. A team like ours operates in limited facilities...not just the number of seats but also the type and quality of those seats. Our particular market is still primarily an agricultural, distribution, and services type of population centre so we have a limited number of corporate sponsorships available in Belleville. For us, building relationships with the local business owners, those who see what OHL hockey means to our local community and culture, is a key task. With a city population of about 50,000 people and a realistic trading area of maybe double that, we are a smaller market place and so we have to get creative and diversified. 

Since we've owned the Belleville Bulls we've added some new business areas. We now do all the food concessions at our games. We are working to provide ticketing services through our ticketing systems for non-Bulls events at the Yardmen Arena and now for other venues in the region. One of our main activities is to be recognized as the leading provider of hockey development services in the Quinte Region. If you check out our website you would see all the various camps and programs we run through the year in this part of our business. 

Of all of these camps, my personal favourite hockey development activity by far is the adult development (my wife likes to call it adult fantasy) camp. This program has been running for several years now. I've been able to join in the last two summers as an active participant. Yeah, I know...at 50 years old I am definitely one of the older guys (we do have an amazing goalie there in his sixties!!) but it goes to show that it is fun for all ages. For those of you that might have heard (directly or indirectly) about my "sand papery" style of play.....yes, it was risky for me to be part of this camp especially with many of our great sponsors and season ticket holders that pay to attend! Yikes, they could easily have been on the end of one of my flying elbows. But I guess in my old age I'm mellowing out and this camp has been a real blast. Anyway, two years in and I've actually made some friends and not lost any, at least as far as I know. The camp is a full week of evening sessions that last two hours and offer a mix of skill development, practical tips, and a competitive scrimmage as part of a 5 game tournament. The Bulls coaches, players, equipment guys, and athletic therapists are right there with us every step of the way which is a very interesting part of the overall experience.

This year we all had to "suck it up" when Bruce Mackay of Mackay Insurance (a great Bulls' sponsor I might add) claimed top goal scoring honours (this was hard to believe) and told us about his "ice bath" after the first night. Despite that, the week was still fun!! So check this camp out if you or anyone you know are interested. It's a great gift idea for that father or son (or grandfather!) with everything that you just can't think of a gift for! 

And so our 31st season is now underway...Considering the excitement those of us at the Yardmen on Saturday night experienced, we hope we will see you all at the rink to help cheer our boys on! Until next time...