The many ways the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the CHL

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Little more than one week ago, the Canadian Hockey League, consisting of the WHL, OHL and QMJHL, made the decision to follow the NHL’s lead and press pause on its season. And mere days ago, that pause begat the cancellation of the regular seasons across the three major junior circuits.

Still up in the air is the state of the post-season. Upon the QMJHL’s decision to cancel the regular season – the ‘Q’ was the first of the three to announce that would be the case – it was announced that when (or if) the campaign resumes, the playoff seedings will be determined based on points percentage. The WHL and OHL took similar, albeit slightly different, tacks, as well, using wins percentage and points to determine their final standings, respectively. But whether or not the post-season is played at all is in question, particularly with no clear timeline on a potential return to action for any league at any level.

The impacts stretch beyond the post-season, though. Here are several areas the CHL will be effected by the coronavirus outbreak:

The 2020 Memorial Cup
Scheduled to be hosted by the Kelowna Rockets, the messaging thus far is that this year’s Memorial Cup is to go on as scheduled from May 22 to May 31. Given the eight-week minimum timeline with which the NHL appears to be working, though, that seems somewhat unlikely, and there’s growing concern that a postponement is on the horizon.

If postponement turns into cancellation, however, there’s an even bigger question: what happens with the 2021 tournament? Using the International Ice Hockey Federation’s ruling on the women’s World Championship – slated to be played in Halifax and Truro, N.S., the 2020 tournament was cancelled and the 2021 event awarded to the Nova Scotian cities – as precedent, perhaps the CHL decides to shift Kelowna’s hosting duties to the following year. There’s potential for a ripple effect that impacts Oshawa and Sault Ste. Marie, who were bidding to host the 2021 Memorial Cup, however. 

There hasn’t yet been as announcement regarding the bidding process and possible delays of the April presentations. If those are pushed back, it could be a sign of what’s to come with the Memorial Cup.

Economics
There are a great number of CHL teams that don’t turn a profit in any given season, and missing out on valuable regular season games will cost those teams. 

The average attendance of CHL teams is wide-ranging, anywhere from the 1,500 to 9,000, with the juggernauts such as the London Knights (approximately 9,000), Quebec Ramparts (approx. 8,500) and Edmonton Oil Kings (approx. 7,000) leading the way. At an average ticket price in the $25 range, teams stand to lose anywhere from $37,500 per game to $225,000 from lost gates alone. Most teams are missing out on two or three home games, but there are three teams in each the WHL and the OHL that are missing out on four home games, which accounts for a hair less than 12 percent of their regular season home events. Only the WHL’s Prince George Cougars were left unscathed. They had finished the home portion of their season.

As of right now, many teams are allowing ticket sales from the postponed games to go towards a playoff game. In the case of teams that didn’t make the post-season in their respective leagues – if there is a post-season at all – refunds have begun to be issued.

But ticket revenues aren’t the only major source of income for these teams. Corporate sponsorships are also quality revenue generators, but the game-by-game earnings is falling by the wayside with the season on hold.

The Draft
There’s no draft lottery in the CHL. Instead, the order is set in stone by way of the regular season standings, with a worst-to-first draft order. For the most part, the seeding process remains unchanged. But the final standings have been reached in different ways. The OHL used points from each team’s first 61 games. The QMJHL used a points-percentage method. The WHL used a wins-percentage seeding.

As for the event itself, the ‘Q’ has decided to shift their draft to an online format as opposed to the four-day event, which includes not just the draft, but administrative and hockey staff meetings, that was originally set to take place in Sherbrooke. The shift to an online draft reflects what the OHL has done for years. The WHL could soon follow suit, particularly in the current climate.

Arena Staff
While NHL teams have generally been willing and definitely are able to afford to compensate part-time arena staff during this period, small-market CHL teams are not as capable of doing the same. Many minor-league arena staff are left out in the cold.

Fan Engagement
The major junior hockey fanbases can be as ravenous, possibly more so than professional teams. So, what are organizations doing to keep in contact with their supporters? Not all that much.

As far as content creation goes, most teams don’t have the budget to afford content departments a la their NHL counterparts, so much of the content is generated by interns in attendance on game day. With games on hiatus, fresh content has generally dried up beyond official statements. It’ll be interesting to see if the content engines start up again with after a week of bupkis.

There’s a lot that has changed in the world of Canadian major junior hockey. Expect more changes based on how long this stoppage runs.

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