Friday, March 13, 2015
The Moving of the Bulls-A London Perspective
Major junior hockey shows its true colours again as small city Belleville loses its team to big city — and big money — Hamilton
By Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press
Thursday, March 12, 2015 10:33:26 EDT PM
Brody Silk, middle, of the Sudbury Wolves, attempts to fire a puck past Charlie Graham, of the Belleville Bulls, during OHL action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday March 6, 2015. (QMI Agency)
Earlier this year it was the Plymouth Whalers who were sold and moved to Flint.
Last year it was the Brampton Battalion that moved to North Bay.
Thursday it was the Belleville Bulls who after being in Belleville since 1981were sold and will move to Hamilton.
The message can’t get clearer.
The Ontario Hockey League is no longer a mom and pop operation. It can no longer subsist on tradition and good feelings. It is going the way of professional hockey. It is a business and like all businesses it’s either supported or goes out of business or it moves where operators of that business think they can be successful.
And it doesn’t just come down to fans. It comes down to what a city wants to do to keep a franchise.
Consider any business that wants to set up in a city especially if the business is as big as an OHL franchise. Big businesses that attract flow-through dollars that bring positive publicity to a city; those businesses expect to be treated differently. They expect to get help making their business successful because in the long run, it proves advantageous to the city.
Brampton didn’t attract enough fans. The Bulls had issues with their arena as did the Whalers. All three teams opted to move or sell.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for those that supported those teams but the business wheels of the OHL grind on relentlessly.
“The Bulls have been a part of the Belleville community for over 30 years and we respect the role they have played in the community,” OHL commissioner David Branch said. “It is the OHL’s hope . . . that one day, with the right conditions, OHL hockey will return to Belleville.”
Translation: The team and league tried to work things out in terms of arena improvements and hoped to draw more fans. It didn’t happen so we’re letting the team move and maybe, if you get another chance, the city will have learned its lesson.
No one is suggesting any city in the league kowtow to a private businessperson who owns an OHL team and gives them whatever they want. But that is a decision each city has to make on its own and with its taxpayers.
Is it worth it?
If the answer is no, the fans and city need to recognize that if they can’t meet the demands of a hockey team’s owner then that owner will do what he needs to do to make money because they take the risks.
The approval for the move went through with the speed of sound. The OHL Board of Governors announced the approval of the transfer Thursday.
The team will be called the Hamilton Bulldogs, to replace the Bulldogs of the American Hockey League who are pulling up stakes.
Hamilton has a long history of major junior hockey including the Red Wings, Fincups, Steelhawks, Dukes of Hamilton and others.
Dale Hunter, coach of the London Knights but also majority owner of the team, doesn’t have to worry much about fans or arena. He’s in a building with more than 9,000, which are full most games, and has plenty of private boxes. The Knights are one of the most successful junior hockey franchises in the country.
“I can’t really comment on the situation in Belleville because I don’t know everything about what was going on,” he said. “I know though that the change in hockey has been unbelievable. You look at the number of fans and the buildings — you have to be able to keep up.”
Hunter understands how difficult a situation would have to be in order to move a long-located franchise.
“It would be a very hard decision to make to move a team,” he said. “A very hard decision.”
Knights’ Aaron Berisha played with the Bulls.
“I’m a little shocked,” he said. “But on the other hand, I’m not really surprised. It’s an older arena and there were some problems last year. It’s too bad.
“There were some games when we didn’t get a lot of people but the fans were great. It was a good city to play in.”
That may have been good enough 10 years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Don’t take it personally, it’s strictly business.
Teams either move ahead or move away.