CLARENVILLE, NL — It used to be that people were “hanging off the rafters” at the stadium in Clarenville to see the Clarenville Caribous senior hockey team face off against their opponents.
Today the fan base has dwindled, says team chairman Derek MacPhee.
“I can go back to four years ago when we sold 700 season passes. We’re back to 220 season passes this year,” he told the Packet in an interview today, after the team issued a press release on Monday, Jan. 15 on measures being taken to deal with its financial woes.
The players decided in a recent meeting to continue playing this season, without pay, the press release stated.
“Things are extremely grim, and it was asked if anyone had any ideas on what could be done to cut additional operational costs,” said the statement.
General Manager Ivan Hapgood, team captain Dustin Russell and MacPhee decided to explain the matter to the players and discuss possible options.
According to the press release, Russell spoke to the players and after subsequent discussions with all players on the team, he returned with a team decision for players to continue the rest of this season without further pay or compensation.
“The Clarenville Ford Caribous Organization are extremely thankful that the players took the initiative to continue without compensation. This was a leadership team decision,” the release stated.
When asked if the team would continue to exist after this season, MacPhee told the Packet there is a plan in the works to help the team survive by cutting costs next year.
“I know what we have to do for next season. We applied to go to one of the Eastern leagues, to eliminate that Gander/Grand Falls travel,” MacPhee said.
The team applied to play with the Eastern league for this year, but was turned down.
MacPhee said being able to play in that league would reduce costs considerably because many of the Clarenville Caribous live in St. John’s.
“So, with games on the Avalon, the only travel time would be to have them come to Clarenville,” he said.
That would save money on travel and accommodations, as well as player salaries, since the East Coast League does not have a system of paid players.
“We have had preliminary discussions,” said MacPhee, indicating that there was a good possibility the Caribous will join the East Coast League next season.
“I think it will be a more affordable model of senior hockey,” he said, adding, “We have to play within our means.”
As for the reason for the decline in the local fan base, MacPhee said there are several factors.
“A lot of the die-hard fans that were with us 10 or 11 years ago are not there anymore. A lot of the old fellows have passed away.”
And high school sports — especially volleyball — takes a lot of people out of Clarenville on the weekends.
Currently the team averages about 200 walk-ups to home games — people who buy tickets at the gate, says MacPhee.
The Caribous hope their local fans will continue to show their support by attending home games at the Eastlink Events Centre.
There are two games this weekend against East Coast Senior Hockey League teams, one on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and one on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.