Owners of Charlottetown Islanders '100 per cent committed' to keeping team in city

·4 min read
Shawn MacKenzie, left, and Joel Ives, two of the Charlottetown Islanders' 18 owners, say the franchise has a bright future. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)
Shawn MacKenzie, left, and Joel Ives, two of the Charlottetown Islanders' 18 owners, say the franchise has a bright future. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)

It's been almost 10 years since a group of 18 business people on P.E.I. cobbled together $3.5 million to purchase the Charlottetown Islanders hockey franchise, and though they say it is "barely" profitable, they are as committed as ever to keeping the franchise where it is.

The recent playoff run, which included three sellouts at the Eastlink Centre in the finals of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, certainly helped.

"After these last couple of weeks, 100 per cent committed. It's been one of the funnest rides I've ever been personally involved in," said Shawn MacKenzie, one of the owners.

"It's started to dig us out of the hole, carry us out of the hole. It was a rough couple of years but that was exactly what we needed to get things rolling in the right direction again."

Pandemic hurt revenues

Like most businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the operation financially, though it did take advantage of government relief programs. The team also receives an annual $107,000 grant from the City of Charlottetown each year, and received an additional $50,000 in February to help recoup some losses.

With about 20 paid staff, travel costs and other expenses, the owners said it takes an average of about 2,000 fans a game — a little more than half the rink's capacity — to break even. According to the hockey database website HockeyDB.com, the Islanders averaged 2,311 fans a game in 2021-22 but only 970 in 2020-21 when public health restrictions were in place.

As well, all the home playoff games — where extra revenue can be made — were held in Quebec in 2020-21, but the team still had to pay the bills for flights and accommodation.

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

The owners said they are not necessarily in it to make money. The joys of ownership, they say, come more from watching the players join the team at 16 and leaving four years later as "tremendous" young men and possible NHL players.

While the franchise has no doubt increased in value from what they paid in 2013, any yearly operating profit is usually reinvested into the product, MacKenzie said.

"It's not a tremendous investment, you have to love the sport and love what it does for the community. But that being said, it's not something where we're constantly reaching into our pockets."

We decided when we purchased the team that we weren't going to be the ones making the decisions of who should be playing on the power play or if we should order white hats. — Joel Ives

Since the beginning, only one of the 18 has sold his shares in the company. The ownership group has worked well so far, MacKenzie said.

"We get along way better than I ever thought would have been possible to have, you know, 18 business owners in one room who are used to running their own individual operations, but we do, we're very collaborative and it's gone exceptionally well."

Joel Ives, another of the owners, said that's largely because they let the staff run the operation.

"We decided when we purchased the team that we weren't going to be the ones making the decisions of who should be playing on the power play or if we should order white hats ... We're there on an advisory role more than anything."

Happy at Eastlink Centre

The team's lease with the Eastlink Centre is up for renewal this year. Ives said the team is happy at the Eastlink Centre, and though there was talk years ago from city officials of building a new rink for Charlottetown, it's not something the team is pushing for.

He said the "future is bright" for the franchise, coming off its best season in its 19-year history.

And while they may not match that success next year, with many top players aging out of their junior eligibility, Ives said they will continue to offer the best product they can.

'We owe it to the community. The community has supported us during COVID and over all the years," he said.

"We have no plans on going anywhere."

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