Robert Irving

Robert Irving is the owner of the Moncton Wildcats. (CBC)

The City of Moncton says it hopes to break even on its Coliseum lease agreement with the Moncton Wildcats hockey team by 2016.

City council ratified a new three-year contract with the team on Monday. The version released to the public, following a Right to Information request by CBC News, includes many blacked-out sections.

The agreement breaks new ground compared to previous Wildcats contracts by requiring the Irving-owned team to make extra payments to the city in 2016 if the municipality isn’t breaking even on hockey by then.

In fact, the city hopes to make a modest profit of $4,000 on the team in 2016.

I​n 2010, council approved a contract that was supposed to erase a $175,000 taxpayer loss by this year. On Monday night, city officials said the city was still losing $72,000 on the team.

New revenue measures in contract

Under the new contract, the city hopes to bring in more Wildcats revenue through:

  • New VIP parking at the Coliseum.
  • A higher commission to the city on ticket sales.
  • Greater Wildcats use of the Coliseum’s Legends Lounge, which generates revenue for the city.

The new contract says if the city doesn’t reach its “additional revenue goal” by the 2015-16 season, the team will pay the city “an amount equal to the shortfall,” up to a maximum amount. The specific amount is blacked out.

One element of the revenue plan — the ticket commission — hinges on the prospect of a new downtown sports and entertainment centre, where the Wildcats would be the anchor tenant. The city has been lobbying the federal and provincial governments to commit funding to the centre.

Under the contract, if the city announces by March 15, 2015 that the centre will be operating by the 2017-2018 season, the team will begin paying the city an extra commission on ticket sales.

But the city has to return that money to the team if construction on the centre doesn’t start by June 1, 2016. The team would then keep the extra commission until construction begins.

Moncton decides to partially release contract

In a letter to CBC News on Monday, city clerk Barbara Quigley said the decision to partially release the contract under the Right to Information Act came after new discussions with the Irving-owned Wildcats organization.

Initially, the city refused to release the previous 2010-2013 contract, citing objections from Robert Irving, who operates the team and other Irving companies in the Moncton area.

The new contract says the terms of the lease are confidential but also says the team accepts that the document is subject to the Right to Information Act and that the agreement, or parts of it, “may be subject to disclosure” under the act.

City still pays $88,000 to Wildcats

The new contract maintains an $88,000 per year payment that is ostensibly compensation for the lack of corporate suites at the Moncton Coliseum.

Earlier this month CBC News revealed the payment to the Wildcats was actually included “on the condition of an Irving business locating in the Moncton Industrial Park versus other communities.”

That information was contained in leaked minutes from a 2010 private council meeting in which Mayor George LeBlanc told councillors that he had been “advised” an earlier council had agreed to the concealed diaper plant subsidy.

LeBlanc is now suggesting the information he gave to council in 2010 was incorrect. “There’s nothing in the agreement with the Wildcats that suggests that the money was to be used for another company,” he said Monday night.

But the 2010 minutes don’t suggest the diaper plant subsidy was ever mentioned in any contract.

The agreement ratified by Moncton council on Monday appears to include no rent payment by the Wildcats for use of the Coliseum, though it’s possible some of the blacked-out sections refer to rent payments.

In Bathurst, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan pay no rent at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre. City officials have estimated the team costs the city $200,000 per year.

In Saint John, the Sea Dogs pay $95,000 in rent per season. That increases to $125,000 if 166,000 tickets are sold during a season.

That payment is one reason Harbour Station makes $500,000 to $700,000 in profit on the Sea Dogs each year, reducing the deficit for the arena, which is owned by Saint John, Rothesay, Quispamsis and Grand Bay-Westfield.

New contract between Moncton, Wildcats