City needs more money from Growlers and Edge to cut into operating costs, SJSE chair says

Sandy Hickman has one request for the owners of both sports franchises bidding for a lease agreement at Mile One Centre — “you must pay your way.”

The city councillor and chairperson of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment says all sides are engaged in talks on Monday to try and reach a lease agreement for the upcoming season.

Dean MacDonald, owner of the Newfoundland Growlers, told CBC News he will hold a press conference on Tuesday to “lay out the future” of his team. There’s speculation he’ll threaten to leave the province after this season.

MacDonald has been vocal about his disagreements with the city throughout these negotiations. Hickman said the city has offered the Growlers and the St. John’s Edge a lease very similar to the ones they signed last season, with a few “nuances.”

One of those nuances would be paying more toward the operating costs of the building, though Hickman wouldn’t get into details on what exactly the city is asking for.

Mile One operates at a loss each year, and those losses are covered by the city’s taxpayers. It’s estimated that number was around $1 million last season.

Sandy Hickman said the bids from local companies were good but weren’t paired with the necessary experience. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Hickman said the city is offering the teams a “historic low” cost to rent the stadium on game nights. 

The city also takes a cut of the revenue from corporate boxes, food and beverage sales. 

Running a professional sports team can be fickle and it’s hard to make a profit — the Growlers won an ECHL championship last season but still lost money.

“The Growlers have a huge task ahead of them,” Hickman said. “Their average attendance was quite low. Their average paid attendance was very low for most games.”

One of the challenges was a busy March, where the Growlers and Edge had strings of home games each week. It’s hard to expect people to pay for three games a week, Hickman said, so both teams are hoping for a better schedule this year.

Team owner Dean MacDonald congratulates Zach O’Brien after the winning the Eastern Conference finals. (jpphotographynl.com)

If the Growlers leave, it probably wouldn’t hurt the city’s budget, Hickman said. It would cost the city in other ways, however, like economic spinoffs for downtown businesses, or the simple fact of giving people something to do.

“We do very well when there’s no teams here. Historically, we’ve shown that. We don’t have as high of costs for staffing, even electrical costs, but we make very good revenue on hourly rentals,” he said. “But that’s not what the building was put there for and that’s the conundrum. We really want these teams here, but we just want them to pay a fair amount of money to even help us cover our costs. We’re not trying to rip them off.”

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