Western Hockey League turns to tech to save the next season | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Western Hockey League turns to tech to save the next season

The Kelowna Rockets season came to an end Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops as the team fell to the Blazers 5-1 in a tiebreaker game.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets Images

While professional sports teams can look at playing in empty arenas because they can rake in big bucks from TV broadcasts, that doesn’t work for major junior hockey.

“Seventy per cent of our business is ticket driven,” Bruce Hamilton, president and general manager of the Western Hockey League Kelowna Rockets, told iNFOnews.ca.

The rest of the money comes from things like advertising and sponsorships.

Last week the league told the province that it needs to have at least 50 per cent of its seats filled by paying customers in order to launch its season and, Hamilton said, that’s just to minimize the losses.

That may be the economic reality, but it’s hard to envision people being able to sit two metres apart, under COVID-19 safety rules, and still occupy every second seat in the building.

That’s where technology comes in.

More than one company has already developed software to “map” arenas so, for example, clusters of six or eight people can be safely accommodated a safe distance from others and still safely fill 50 per cent of the seats.

“There is one company in particular that I know about, that has reached out to our league instead of coming to all the teams individually, that has created the software and it will be used whether it’s baseball, football, hockey, basketball,” Hamilton said. “It’ll be that kind of thing, where they take your manifest for your building and then design it out of that.”

Getting to and from seats will also have to look different than the crowding of the past.

“If we get to playing hockey in the fall sometime, people will be so used to all the little different nuances you’ve got to deal with and all the delays you have to deal with that they’ll cope with it I’m sure,” Hamilton said, noting that it will simply take longer to get to and from the seats.

The league has proposed delaying its schedule for two weeks with games starting Oct. 2 and a full 68-game schedule running into the spring.

But, Hamilton said, the league is looking at optional schedules all the way through to January.

“I think all of us are prepared to get into January,” Hamilton said, noting the teams are financially strong enough to weather a delay in the season starting, but only until January. “Then it will get real tough for a whole bunch of people.”

The league stopped play on March 18 and cancelled the Memorial Cup, which was to be played in Kelowna.

If the 2020-21 season is played, it will likely include a re-alignment so there will be exclusively Canadian and American divisions until the 14-day mandatory quarantine is lifted for people arriving from other countries.

And, if the Memorial Cup is held in 2021, it will not be in Kelowna as it rotates through different Canadian leagues. It’s down to two Ontario finalists for 2021.

Hamilton is hoping he can bring the playoff series to Kelowna in 2023, which will give him more time to build a contending team.

There are five WHL teams in B.C. Along with the Rockets and the Kamloops Blazers, there's also the Prince George Cougars, Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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