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Defiant to the end, Growlers owner says 'chaos' with City of St. John's was a fatal blow

Newfoundland Growlers owner Dean MacDonald, pictured here addressing the crowd at a Kelly Cup parade in 2019, said he is 'heartbroken' to see the Growlers time in St. John's come to a close. (Newfoundland Growlers/Facebook/Jeff Parsons - image credit)
Newfoundland Growlers owner Dean MacDonald, pictured here addressing the crowd at a Kelly Cup parade in 2019, said he is 'heartbroken' to see the Growlers time in St. John's come to a close. (Newfoundland Growlers/Facebook/Jeff Parsons - image credit)
Newfoundland Growlers owner Dean MacDonald, pictured here addressing the crowd at a Kelly Cup parade in 2019, said he is 'heartbroken' to see the Growlers time in St. John's come to a close.
Newfoundland Growlers owner Dean MacDonald, pictured here addressing the crowd at a Kelly Cup parade in 2019, said he is 'heartbroken' to see the Growlers time in St. John's come to a close.

Newfoundland Growlers owner Dean MacDonald, pictured here addressing the crowd at a Kelly Cup parade in 2019, said he is 'heartbroken' to see the Growlers time in St. John's come to a close. (Newfoundland Growlers/Facebook/Jeff Parsons)

Dean MacDonald has lobbed plenty of grenades at the City of St. John's over his tenure as owner of the Newfoundland Growlers, and he had a few more on the way out the door on Wednesday.

The St. John's businessman says his professional hockey team failed largely because of his inability to work with city officials on an agreement for the Mary Brown's Centre in St. John's.

MacDonald said that drama — along with the financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic — was too much to take.

"From the league's perspective, we've been the black sheep every year," he told reporters during a virtual news conference. "Its work with the Growlers, whether we're thrown out of the arena, or they can't do a schedule because we don't have a lease in place."

From the jump in 2018, MacDonald's group — Deacon Sports and Entertainment — wanted control of Mary Brown's Centre so it could generate revenue from events aside from hockey games. The group had plans for major concerts, and at one point tried to run a professional basketball franchise out of the arena.

MacDonald said the city-owned St. John's Sports and Entertainment reneged on promises to allow them more access to the facility, and later walked away from negotiations on a 10-year lease agreement in 2021.

That was a critical blow, MacDonald said, leaving the Growlers without an arena just ahead of the 2021-2022 season. The team ended up opening its season at a smaller arena in nearby Conception Bay South, before both sides signed a three-year lease agreement, which was set to end this year.

"The ongoing chaos of operating in this environment is difficult," MacDonald said on Wednesday.

What happened?

It was a hectic few weeks for Deacon Sports and Entertainment, which also owns the Trois-Rivieres Lions franchise in Quebec.

Reports surfaced last week that the Lions were in financial trouble, and the problems might extend to the Growlers.

Behind the scenes, MacDonald — who has been dealing with health issues for two years — was trying to sell his teams. He was successful in offloading the Iowa Heartlanders in 2023, and found a buyer interested in the Lions and Growlers this season.

Mary Brown's Centre was the scene of the NBA game that never happened. Fans are eager to bring back another game next year.
Mary Brown's Centre was the scene of the NBA game that never happened. Fans are eager to bring back another game next year.

Mary Brown's Centre — formerly Mile One — was the centre of controversy between Deacon Sports and Entertainment and St. John's Sports and Entertainment. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

MacDonald said the buyer ran into problems with his partner, and told him two weeks ago that he couldn't get the deal across the finish line before the league's deadline. MacDonald said that left them scrambling to find other options. In the end, they found an interested buyer for the Lions, but the league had the option to squash the Growlers.

The Growlers only had six games left in the season, and had a shot at making the playoffs.

"I actually have some sympathy for the league because the process has been long and it's unfortunate, as I said, but there was an option on the table that could have allowed the team to continue," he said. "We were certainly hoping to finish out the season if nothing else, but that's it. This is where we are."

St. John's has seen four professional hockey franchises come and go, leaving fans with questions as to whether or not they'll ever see another team again.

MacDonald said any team that enters the market would have to control the arena in order to make enough money to survive. It will also require an owner willing to take risks.

"Hopefully there's somebody as dumb as me that comes along," he said.

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