A recruiting team from Spokane flew home Monday with the juiciest plum in major junior hockey, the right to host the 1998 Memorial Cup tournament.
Earlier Monday, Western Hockey League owners meeting in Calgary accepted Spokane’s bid after hearing proposals from Regina, Red Deer and Portland.
The event is the Final Four of North American junior hockey. It includes championship teams from the Ontario, Quebec and Western leagues, plus the Chiefs as the host club.
Scheduled for May 9-17 in the Arena, the event will mean $2.7 million to the local economy, according to Spokane mayor Jack Geraghty, who was with the bid team that submitted the winning proposal at Monday’s owners meeting.
One source said Spokane received 10 votes to five for Regina, with the other three votes split up among the other two bidders - Portland and Red Deer.
Chiefs owner Bobby Brett, who submitted the only guaranteed revenue projections, remained in Calgary for continuation of the owners meeting and did not attend a late afternoon press conference Monday at Spokane International Airport.
But one well-placed WHL source said Spokane’s bid was $800,000 (Canadian). The bid money goes to the WHL, which will divide it among the league’s 18 franchises.
Portland Winter Hawks owner Ken Hodge told the Oregonian that Spokane offered “a guarantee which was basically equal to our worst-case scenario.
“We proposed that it was possible to reach a number that was three times higher than their guarantee,” Hodge told the Portland paper. “It was far below what could have been generated if the Memorial Cup were to be held in the 18,500-seat (Portland) Rose Garden.”
The Portland owner acknowledged, however, that his high figure represented “pie in the sky” while Spokane came in with a hard number.
“We weren’t shocked or surprised, but we were disappointed,” Hodge said.
“Spokane will do an outstanding job,” Hodge added, “and I think they’ll have a very competitive club next year. But I can say the same about our organization and the quality of our hockey team, looking ahead to next year. We might be there anyway (playing for the ‘98 Cup).”
Portland figures to be among the favorites in next year’s WHL race.
Regina owner Russ Parker was a little hotter.
“I’m thoroughly disappointed,” Parker told the Regina Leader-Post.
Even though Spokane’s bid was $200,000 (Canadian) more than Regina’s, Parker was not alone in his belief that it was time the WHL awarded the tournament to an East or Central Division city.
The site is rotated annually by the ruling body of junior hockey, the Canadian Hockey League. Next May’s Memorial Cup is in Hull, Quebec. A WHL city is selected once every three years.
Four of the last five WHL-hosted Memorial Cups have gone to a city in the WHL West Division twice to Portland, once to Seattle and most recently, in ‘95, to Kamloops, British Columbia. Four of the last six Memorial Cup events were held outside Canada.
“Money talks,” Parker told the Regina paper.
And owners listen.
But even though money was a key it wasn’t the only factor, Public Facilities District chairman Jim Ray, a member of the Spokane bid team, said.
The Arena was a strong selling point.
“This is the event the Arena was built to host,” Ray said.
Another factor was the cooperation of the hospitality industry, said Hartley Kruger of the Spokane Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Spokane-area motels and hotels will honor Canadian currency at par during the nine days of the Memorial Cup event that coincides with the city’s annual Lilac Festival, Kruger said.
Dave Pier, vice president of Brett Sports, said emphasizing the Chiefs’ financial guarantee to the league “makes it look like we bought the tournament and we really didn’t.”
Convenience was important, Pier said.
“All four of the teams that bid can put on a good event,” he said. “Red Deer proved they could put on a World Junior Tournament, Regina has put on a Grey Cup, Portland has hosted the Memorial Cup (twice). But they (owners) were looking for a downtown area where everything is within 5 minutes. We have hotels, the opera house, the convention center that will be used for some of the events tied to the tournament all within a 5-minute walk.
“They also looked at our attendance - a 9,700 average for playoff games last year and a (two-season) average of 7,400,” Pier said. “We didn’t give them pie in the sky. We gave the league a figure based on average attendance and said, ‘You won’t make less than this.”’
The event won’t be a moneymaker for the Chiefs “even if we’re wildly successful with it,” Pier said.
“We’re putting it on because it’s a great event for the community,” he added. “It extends the community’s honeymoon with the Arena. It’s great for our fans and our players (who automatically qualify for the CHL’s premier event). And it’s great for recruiting.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TWO CHIEFS CHOSEN FOR CANADIAN CAMP Spokane Chiefs center Trent Whitfield and defenseman Hugh Hamilton will take part in the final selection camp leading to the Canadian junior national team. The two will be named with other selections today at a press conference in Calgary. Mike Babcock of the Chiefs will coach the team at the World Junior Tournament in Switzerland during the holidays. It was learned Monday that Portland will send Brad Isbister to the camp that runs Dec. 13-18 in Kitchener, Ontario.
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