New Brunswick

Bathurst reaches bailout deal to keep Titan hockey team in city

The move to support the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team follows relocation speculation, changes in ownership and poor attendance in recent years. This summer, the ownership group announced it needed to consider selling the franchise.

Potential 5-year, $275,000 investment being considered

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan will stay in Bathurst with the help of financial support from the city. (Acadie-Bathurst Titan)

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan will stay in the Chaleur region, after city officials signed an initial agreement that paves the way for a potential five-year, $275,000 investment.

The move to support the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team follows relocation speculation, changes in ownership and poor attendance in recent years. This summer, the ownership group announced it was facing financial pressure and needed to consider selling the franchise.

Under the initial one-year agreement, Bathurst will provide a $75,000 grant raised from the city's accommodation levy. League and city officials announced the plan on Tuesday at a news conference at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre, the team's home area.

Mayor Kim Chamberlain said the urgency of the financial situation prompted immediate action to try to keep the team.

"This is the foundation for future steps to ensure that the Titan is here to stay," she said.

The initial one-year deal is to allow time to negotiate a long-term agreement involving other municipalities in the region. Discussions on the five-year plan have begun.

'It puts Bathurst on the map'

Board chair Serge Thériault said the current ownership is dedicated to working to keep the franchise and the deal lays that groundwork.

"It's a place that creates positive economic spinoff in the northern region," he said. "The rink is where family and friends gather to celebrate their community. It puts Bathurst on the map."

The proposed five-year agreement would include a $100,000 operating grant from the city's general operating fund, $50,000 from the 2021 budget and $50,000 from the 2022 budget. The initial accommodation levy grant would also be part of the package.

The northern New Brunswick city's general operating budget is $27 million for 2022.

Titan forward Samuel Asselin, right, celebrates after scoring on Regina Pats goalie Max Paddock during Acadie-Bathurst's Memorial Cup win in 2018. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Under the proposed long-term deal, Bathurst will receive a portion of game revenues when more than 2,100 people attend. That threshold would mean selling more than 66 per cent of seats at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre.

The team has an average attendance of about 1,573 fans for home games this season, according to the league.

The city also plans to purchase a corporate box for tourism promotions, work with the team to find additional revenue sources through advertising and offer additional physical space.

Host cities in New Brunswick have frequently used arena contracts to help subsidize expenses, from reducing rent to paying for staff.

Small market challenges 

With a population of about 12,000 residents, Bathurst is the smallest market with a Canadian Hockey League team. There are 53 teams across Canada.

Despite its size, the Titan captured national attention after winning the Memorial Cup and President's Cup in 2018. The team has been located in Bathurst since 1998.

Gilles Courteau, commissioner of the QMJHL, said the team is closely tied to the community and an economic driver to promote the city.

"I am incredibly proud when I see a team in a smaller market, battling hard with other CHL franchises to win," he said.

In late 2020, the franchise went from 20 owners to 12 as part of a financial restructuring. 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought additional challenges for the Titan, cancelling the rest of the 2020 regular season and suspending play for part of 2021. The team recorded a deficit of between $500,000 and $600,000 last year.

Thériault said ticket sales will need to go up.

The Titan's struggling performance on the ice at times is part of the nature of the major junior hockey cycle, he said.  Players are eligible from 16 to 20 years of age. 

"We had a couple of years where we needed to rebuild," Thériault said. "We have instilled a winning culture, and we once again have a team that can take us all the way."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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