Saturday, March 14, 2015


Who's to Blame for the Death of the Bulls?

Who takes the blame for the death of the Belleville Bulls?

Ryan Kennedy

Belleville's Adam Laishram (photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
As much as we all like sports and the arenas they are played in, it has been pretty well established over the years that taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for creating such buildings, at least at the professional level. if Los Angeles doesn’t get an NFL team because a new stadium isn’t built, the good citizens of that metropolis can simply go see baseball, basketball, hockey, college football or go to museums, art galleries, movie premieres, and so on.
But what about small towns like Belleville?
The Ontario community is home to about 50,000 people and until yesterday, a major junior hockey team. But the Bulls will be moving to Hamilton next year and for the first time in 35 years, there will be no OHL hockey in town.
Yardmen Arena was the biggest issue. The Bulls’ antiquated facility was in need of a facelift and has been for years, but neither ownership nor the city was willing or able to pony up the cash. That hasn’t helped attendance, which sits near the bottom of the OHL – and it’s worth noting that last-place Plymouth is moving this summer as well, to Flint, Mich.
It would be easy to say that major junior hockey is leaving small towns behind, but then you have North Bay (around the same population as Belleville) succeeding after departing Brampton, with a population of more than 500,000. Plus, next year’s Memorial Cup will be hosted by Red Deer, which beat out Vancouver for the right to throw the CHL’s biggest party.
But there does seem to be more pressure on small markets. Is it fair that the good people of Belleville lost their team because they didn’t want to pay (I say “they” because while elected officials ultimately decide the town budget, the people elected those officials) for a new arena, or at least for renovations?
Some would say that’s the price of putting your town on the map, but it’s a steep one. The Bulls were something the town could rally around, but clearly only some people really cared. In terms of ownership, it would be great if every major junior team had someone with deep pockets at the helm, but there are only so many of those folks out there that care to own a hockey team that may lose money more often than it makes it.
Michael Andlauer was willing to take on the Bulls and try his luck with OHL hockey in Hamilton and Steel City should be thankful for that. But from the sounds of it, Gord Simmonds had been trying to make it work in Belleville for a long time and it just wasn’t getting done.
In a statement from the OHL, commissioner David Branch said “It is the OHL’s hope, as with other small cities in our league, that one day, with the right conditions, OHL hockey will return to Belleville.”
It’s too bad that a city had to lose its team in this game of franchise musical chairs and maybe Belleville will get another team in the future. But with major junior becoming more of a professional show with each passing year, it’s hard to see that happening without a new arena – and another chance.

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