Edwards/Giguère Testimony - 11/5/98 (Part 3)

25 May 1999

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    Perhaps we could invite our friends from the Canadian Hockey League to come forward. Mr. David Branch, come on up here and make yourself at home, sir. You're here with members of Parliament who have major junior franchises in their ridings, so I'm sure they're going to be very interested in what you have to say.

    Colleagues, I'll give a short preamble before we hand it over to our witnesses. As you know, the Canadian Hockey League is almost coast to coast. We have with us today Mr. David Branch, who is the president of the Canadian Hockey League. He is also the commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League.

    We also have Mr. Gilles Courteau, who represents the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which also has teams in Atlantic Canada; and Mr. Dev Dley, who is representing all of the teams in western Canada and four teams in the United States.

    We're sorry to rush you like this, gentlemen, but we're working against the clock. We thank you for coming before us. You've probably read about us over the last few months; this is the twelfth month that we've been working at this. We're studying the linkages between sport and the economy.

    Of course our national winter sport, hockey, is generating a lot of interest, not only among members, but also among the media. Even though the emphasis in our hearings has been on amateur sport in this country, the couple of times that we've had witnesses related to professional sport have seemed to attract more media attention. Nonetheless, all of us in this room feel the sport and the league you all represent are pretty important. We're therefore appreciative of the fact that you've taken the time to come before us as this committee winds up. This committee has to report to Parliament by the end of November if we're going to be considered for this year's budget activity.

    Mr. Branch, we hand it over to you.

    Mr. David Branch (President, Canadian Hockey League; Commissioner, Ontario Hockey League): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.

    With his knowledge about my fellow associates, Dennis has taken away some of my introduction here. However, allow me to carry on and extend to you, first of all, the issue of the Canadian Hockey League.

    We are the largest hockey league in this country. In fact we are the largest league in the world, with 53 teams, of which 47 stretch from Cape Breton in the east to Kamloops in the west. Having said that, we have three distinct leagues that administer to the day-to-day operations, needs, and requirements of the 53 member teams.

    Mr. Dley, as Chairman Mills pointed out, is the commissioner of the Western Hockey League. His office is located in Alberta, and it administers to the member teams in the four western provinces. Gilles Courteau is the president of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and he administers to those teams in the province of Quebec and in the Maritimes, with his office situated in the province of Quebec. As commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League, I administer out of the province of Ontario to the 18 teams that we have in the province. And we also have a national office for the Canadian Hockey League, which we will speak about a little bit later in our presentation. The CHL office is located in Ontario as well.

    To provide a quick overview of the Canadian Hockey League and what it means not only to the great sport of hockey but to this great country of ours as well, we would like to share with you a very brief video that we have made specifically for this presentation.

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    (Video presentation)

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    The Chairman: That's pretty impressive, Mr. Branch.

    Mr. David Branch: We have, of course, distributed a copy of our brief to each of the members of the committee. We certainly do appreciate the opportunity to simply highlight, if we may, a couple of the key areas of the brief. As we understand the process, there will be a Q and A session following that, and we would be more than willing to attempt to answer any and all questions.

    To just start off, we'll go through the brief and highlight a couple of areas. As was mentioned in the video, we will be celebrating our hundredth anniversary next season, which in itself is a true landmark. Our teams compete for the Memorial Cup, which has been up for competition since 1919. The first two teams to compete for the Memorial Cup were the University of Toronto Schools and the Regina Pats. It's interesting to note that the Pats still operate in Regina, of course, and are a very valued member our league.

    We have approximately 1,300 young men competing annually in our programs across the country. Directly involved as employees with teams and league offices, we have some 1,400 full-time and part-time staff.

    What's interesting and I think important to note is that many of us in this room are old enough to remember or recall the old sponsorship days when the National Hockey League had total ownership of junior teams in this country. In 1967, of course, that was set aside in favour of the universal entry draft, so the sponsorship of junior teams was no longer permitted.

    Since that time, junior teams have by and large been operated and funded through private individuals or community-based relationships, etc. There are a couple of instances in which NHL teams still continue to own and operate junior teams, but we're really only at about two there. That really has gone by the wayside, and it's not a factor in how we do our business. That allows us, of course, to legislate and regulate our area of the hockey industry as we see fit.

    On the video, you also saw the attendance numbers, which are quite interesting. When you look at the 1990s, we in junior hockey consider it a renaissance in junior hockey. There has been a tremendous explosion that has not only added additional teams across the country, but has seen increased interest and awareness, live spectator support, and ability to market and promote ourselves to a much greater and better extent. We have a new national TV contract that we were able to secure through the new cable channel, CTV Sportsnet, which will see some 65 nationally televised games this year, including the entire Memorial Cup tournament.

    The CHL is an interesting league in terms of its scope when you consider that we touch on eight provinces. We take up any number of different market sizes, from major centres like Toronto and Calgary, to provincial capitals and large centres like Halifax, Quebec, Ottawa and Regina. Intertwined with that, you have Cape Breton, Victoriaville, Owen Sound, Belleville and others. And when you look at the northern elements in various provinces, we're proud to have Rouyn-Noranda, Sault Ste. Marie, Prince Albert and Prince George, to name a few. So we're truly representative of every size, area and region of this great country.

    Virtually every Canadian province has someone who has played or is playing in our league. In just a quick summary here, I think it's interesting to note just where some of the players come from. You have Jonathan Cheechoo, from Moose Factory. Yellowknife's Peter Bergman is now playing in Calgary. The list goes on, and it's quite a diverse representation of our country both geographically and in terms of its makeup.

    We suggest to you that the Canadian Hockey League clearly promotes and supports national unity. In fact, of all the players in the Canadian Hockey League, 90% are Canadian.

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    The CHL is about young men experiencing people and places across the country. It is about being in a dressing room in Prince Albert with virtually every teammate representing all other western provinces and areas. It's about four teams representing all regions of our country coming together in May to compete for the Memorial Cup. It's about the top prospects' game, in which the top forty players from across the country come together to play. We intermingle them, so you might have a left-winger from Rimouski, a centreman who plays for Regina, and a right-winger who happens to be from Bathurst, New Brunswick.

    It's a real interesting mix, a real opportunity for the country and the regions to come together in an environment known as hockey. These friendships and experiences will be remembered and cherished for the rest of their lives, and we suggest it provides the foundation for their character and their understanding of Canada's different cultural regions.

    In terms of some of our future goals in this particular area, as touched on, we currently have a prospects' game that allows the three leagues to come together with forty players from the various areas of our country. We also have our national junior team program. The Canadian Hockey League supplies 95% of the players to that program. There's a summer camp, and there's an opportunity for the twenty successful candidates to represent our country during the Christmas period for three to four weeks of the year. This is a very important program for all of us, and we have taken great pride in the five consecutive world championships that we had in the last six years.

    The Memorial Cup allows us to come together in May. As mentioned before, it consists of four club teams. What we would like to do is expand upon the number of times we have the ability to interact, interface, play against one another in terms of points to count. This would help to create that interest and, once again, bring our country together. We'd like to see regular season games where suddenly Drummondville could be playing in Kamloops on a weekend. We think there's tremendous opportunity to bring our country together. Great awareness would be created through the national TV exposure and the like.

    We have plans for a bilingual kids' fan club, in which kids get involved in our game, through our game, in the power of sport, in the power of hockey. Through your proceedings, I'm sure the power of this whole area is something that has really made you feel something special as you've gone through your hearings. We would like to utilize this to get kids involved, to bring them to special events like the Memorial Cup, etc., to talk about the great game we have and what it means to them and to this country.

    As well, we wish to encourage through this committee that the Prime Minister recognize our national champions. That may sound a little American, but we think there's merit to having the Memorial Cup champions brought annually to Parliament Hill to be recognized as true Canadian heroes.

    Mr. Gilles Courteau (Vice-President, Canadian Hockey League): As you know, the Canadian Hockey League has, over the years, become the official supplier to the National Hockey League. Since 1996, that's the slogan that we use in the Canadian League: we define ourselves as the official supplier of clubs in the National Hockey League.

    That slogan resulted in a long period of reflection. We contribute not only in terms of players, managers, trainers, coaches and club support staff for the National Hockey League but also, for several years now, we've been able to develop and provide referees and linesmen who work for the National Hockey League.

    Over 65% of the players now in the National Hockey League come from the Canadian League. Nearly 70% of the managers and head coaches began as players or managers in a club that is a member of the Canadian Hockey League.

    In 1998, during the last NHL draft in Buffalo, 21 of the 27 first-round selections were from the Canadian Hockey League, including Vincent Lecavalier, the top draft choice. Of the 259 players drafted, 138 were from the Canadian Hockey League. From the very start of the NHL entry draft, 70.8% of the players drafted in the first two rounds were from the Canadian Hockey League. And 53.9% of the players selected in all the NHL draft rounds since 1969 have been from the Canadian Hockey League.

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    At the international level, the Canadian Hockey League has achieved a great deal by working closely with the Canadian Hockey Association. Since 1978, we have put together the National Junior Team which competes in the World Junior Hockey Championships.

    Since the inauguration of these championships, Canada has won 10 gold medals, more than any other country, even in the 1990s. Of the 212 players who represented the country on those championship teams, 191 came from Canadian Hockey League clubs. Seven of the ten head coaches of gold-winning national junior teams were Canadian Hockey League coaches. The other three coaches who were not directly associated with the CHL as head coaches gained their experience as players or became coaches in the CHL.

    The members of the Executive Committee, made up of Dave Branch, Dev Dley and myself, sit on the Policy Committee of the Canadian Hockey Association. We make sure that the National Junior Team works well, establish guidelines and see to everything related to a group of 20 hockey players and their management and support team, so as to maintain our level of excellence and make sure we take our place on the highest step of the podium, that of the gold winners.

    Fifteen of our CHL coaches have served as coaches at different levels of the National Junior Team. The support staff has also been a key element.

    It is very important to note the sacrifice that the owners of Canadian junior clubs must make when asked to lend players for the World Junior Hockey Championships. These players, who are the star players of their clubs, are away from their club for one month. They may be away even longer because, when these players return from the World Junior Championships, their head coach and their junior club usually give them some time off.

    For example, if Alex Tanguay of the Halifax Mooseheads were to be on the National Junior Team, he would be absent as a regular player from the Halifax Mooseheads Club for eight matches. If Brad Stewart of the Regina Pats were on the National Junior Team, he could miss up to nine of the matches scheduled for the Regina Pats.

    I asked the New York Rangers if they would agree to giving up their star player Wayne Gretzky, for eight games so that he could defend Team Canada's colours in professional hockey.

    All of this brings us to a third consideration. The Canadian Hockey League, as you saw a few minutes ago on the video and as indicated in the report that we handed out to you, is the league with the highest attendance figures of all sport leagues in Canada for 1997-98.

    For the 13th straight year, CHL attendance has increased. What are the ingredients of this success? With 47 Canadian-based clubs, the CHL has more teams than any other professional or amateur league in the country. We are really what can be called a national league at the junior level.

    In addition, the tickets are very affordable for families. For under $50, a family of four can attend a junior game and have a lot of fun.

    There's also a great deal of interest in the community. Ninety percent of the players are Canadian and generally are from the same city or town where the team plays. It's entertainment where you see a lot of enthusiasm, it's very intense, very emotional because the team plays to its fans night after night.

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    There's something else that should be noted. The players and managers display great loyalty to everything associated with them directly or indirectly.

    Fans of NHL teams attend an average of 4.9 games. However, the average for CHL fans is 11.9 games, which is a very interesting finding. This is why we are pleased to say today that the Canadian Hockey League, over the years, has achieved a great deal by bringing together, at the outset, the three leagues from the West, Ontario and Quebec. It has been able to form a large family, a Canadian unit, and to train 16 to 19-year-olds for a future in the Canadian Hockey League.

    Mr. Dev Dley (Vice-President, Canadian Hockey League; Commissioner, Western Hockey League): My colleagues have touched upon the growth and importance of the CHL within their respective communities and the magnitude this league has across this country. I think we should also always keep in mind that this is amateur hockey. When we speak of an amateur organization, we sometimes lose sight of the impact it has within its respective communities. We have covered this in detail in our brief. The economic impact that the respective teams have, and what the respective leagues contribute to the overall economy of this country, are set out commencing at page 12.

    In spite of the fact that these are all amateur clubs, their average annual expenditures to operate are approximately $1.3 million. The total direct economic spending that the teams have across this country exceeds $62 million. The vast majority of revenue that sustains these hockey clubs comes from people who attend the hockey games. Some 85% of the revenue that's generated is through ticket sales. Those ticket sales are not restricted just to the immediate community within which a team sets up its residency. For example, a club in Halifax would draw from the general Halifax region. Similarly, a very small community in the Western Hockey League, such as Swift Current, with a population less than 20,000, also draws from far-reaching areas around Swift Current. All of those people spend money not only to come into town to watch the hockey games, they spend their disposable income as well. The indirect contributions that are made within those economies exceeds $73 million. That's a large sum of money as an injection into each particular region, each particular city.

    In addition to those expenditures, all of the clubs form a partnership within their community. They become very much a part of the fabric, involved in the community in all sorts of ways: donating to charities; being involved in various fundraising events around the community; and, very specifically, being involved with respect to the development of minor hockey. During the course of any season, the total contributions that CHL teams make back to minor hockey associations, to the provincial amateur hockey associations, and to the Canadian Hockey Association total almost $1 million. That's through direct contributions, through assessments, and through development assistance as well.

    One area that's critical to many of these cities is the facility itself. In most cities the facility in the wintertime is the focal point of the community. Each of those facilities requires a major tenant. In most instances, the major tenant is in fact the CHL team. The disproportionate share paid-and willingly paid-by the CHL franchise assists other users of the facility. Take a city such as Kamloops, for example. It has a 5,500-seat arena. Without the major junior team being the major tenant and paying the bulk of the expenses associated with that facility, that city would not have the opportunity to attract other recreational events and other cultural events that enhance this particular community.

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    If you look at the city of Halifax, for example, 40% of the facility's ticket sales for the entire year are generated by the major junior club on the 35 dates that the team plays in that arena. Obviously that's reflected in the rent it pays to help to allow that facility to continue as a viable entity.

    Along with the economic impact and included as some of the costs is a very material element of the CHL, and that is the commitment to education. Every player in the CHL is entitled, as a participant in the game, to post-secondary scholarship assistance. When you look at the numbers of players who go through the league, 98% of the players-and that includes players who come from Europe-have either completed high school or are attending post-secondary instruction. Every team makes it a point to schedule practices during off-school hours. Almost three-quarters of the games are played on weekends. These participants are very much student athletes.

    Last year's Memorial Cup champions are an example of one team in particular that has been successful. In Portland, every single player was either attending high school or taking classes at a community college or university. That obviously takes money, and we would certainly ask for consideration as the years go on for assistance in establishing a foundation for scholarship assistance for all players. Perhaps one avenue that could be explored is the Prime Minister's millennium fund, because this, the education side, is a very critical component of being a major junior player.

    One of the other issues that faces us involves lifestyle issues. All teams have programs in place in which there is a very close working relationship with local authorities, police departments and local counsellors in order to deal with issues of drug and alcohol abuse. In turn, the players then go out into the community to speak with various groups, to speak with school children, giving those participants within the community that kind of education.

    Two years ago we were confronted with the Graham James revelations as they pertained to the issues of abuse. Since that knowledge came to our attention, the CHL has commissioned and adopted the Players First report written by Gordon Kirke. The result of that report is that every player who plays in the CHL is provided with counselling, provided with education, provided with awareness, and also provided with a cost-free analysis of what abuse is and how to deal with it. The resources are made available to the players, and they're made available with the hope and expectation that those in hockey will never have to be faced with that kind of situation again.

    The reality is that the teams make a point of being partners within their community. It's not a situation in which the teams come into a community, take the benefits, and leave. The owners, the businessmen and the fans all intertwine themselves with the hockey club. The reality is that within their franchise cities, the players are very prominent. In many cases, those players will be the closest contact that local people have with an NHL player or someone who may potentially go on to be a professional player.

    We view the players and the fans as the most important participants in the game. With respect to those young men who provide the entertainment, they're not only players, they're also students and citizens, and they become the community leaders.

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