Corporate Hockey's Home-Ice Advantage: How Privatization and Professionalization Are Remaking the Sport I Love

By Decosse, Stefan | Canadian Dimension, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Corporate Hockey's Home-Ice Advantage: How Privatization and Professionalization Are Remaking the Sport I Love


Decosse, Stefan, Canadian Dimension


THE LOCAL public ice rink and the non-profit minor hockey association are fast becoming relics. Neither is likely to survive the juggernaut of a new culture of privatized minor sport administration.

The concept of the hockey "season" is also becoming antiquated. The word implies a distinct beginning and an end. But in the all-consuming world of elite minor hockey, the "season" now often runs from August to August. Even the term "athlete" will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history. Its longstanding association with well roundedness and an amateur ethic bears little relation to the hyper-specialized professionalization that today defines the training of youth hockey players and other minor sport participants.

What are we to make of these transformations?

Frozen assets

In British Columbia, where I grew up and played competitive hockey, municipalities and regional districts owned all but four ice rinks until 1990. For decades, minor hockey seasons were decided in and across a vast network of publicly owned arenas and civic recreation centres in communities throughout the province. Non-profit minor hockey associations were often their primary winter tenants.

Public facilities have a mandate to serve their communities. The local recreation centre is where my friends and I learned to shoot and skate, to be sure, but it's also were we attended pre-school and kicked our first soccer balls. For years, the traditional hockey season would begin in late August and wrap up by late March. In the warmer months, the ice would be removed to make room for other activities, maybe summer day camps or lacrosse.

But the old single ice-sheet public recreation centre is ill equipped to deal with the demands of today's privatized minor hockey environment. Increasingly, the sport is played in purpose built for-profit rinks that serve their clientele on a year-round basis.

In the last 25 years, 13 of the 30 new ice rinks in British Columbia were built by or operated by private interests. As minor hockey training has transformed from seasonal youth recreation to a year-round youth vocation, new opportunities for profitable accumulation have opened themselves to corporate actors who have the wherewithal to capitalize.

The transformation of a rink in suburban Vancouver exemplifies minor hockey's shifting environments. The Burnaby 8, now owned and operated by Canlan Ice Sports Corporation, was recently retrofitted from an aging four-sheet barn into a state-of-the-art facility. Today it's outfitted with six NHL-sized rinks, a figure skating sheet, an indoor soccer field, a restaurant complex and cutting-edge gym facilities that include a skating treadmill.

Canlan is no mom-and-pop shop. The corporation's assets include 18 facilities and 68 sheets of ice across North America. In the 2014 fiscal year, it generated more than $56.7 million from its rink and field activities. Twenty-eight per cent of its revenues came from third-party ice rentals (including minor hockey associations) and another 18 per cent from in-house minor hockey leagues.

Companies like Canlan not only feed on a public appetite for year-round hockey, they actively encourage and depend upon it. Their facilities are blanketed in advertisements for equipment retailers and posters promoting high-performance training companies that sell opportunities to "train like the pros. …

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