The Red Deer Rebels will bid to host the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
A bid by the Western Hockey League club has been discussed for months. But team officials did so with caution after a frustrating process in 2011, when the 2013 Canadian Hockey League tournament essentially went to the highest bidder. The Saskatoon Blades offered $3.5 million in profit guarantees and a 14,000-seat building for the 2013 championship, and Red Deer’s bid fell short.
The only competing bid for the 2016 tournament will come from the Vancouver Giants, who last hosted the event in 2007.
“It’s not just about the Rebels, it’s about our city, it’s about Central Alberta and it’s about Alberta,” said Rebels owner/general manger/head coach Brent Sutter, on Wednesday in confirming the bid.
“It hasn’t been hosted in our province since 1974 (in Calgary), so when 2016 gets here it’s going to be 42 years. When you see it’s been hosted in other provinces four or five times and down into the U.S. three or four times, it’s pretty amazing really that it hasn’t (been back to Alberta).”
The Memorial Cup rotates between the three leagues that make up the CHL. At the end of the coming season, the Quebec Ramparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will host the tournament, from May 21 to 31, 2015.
Sutter said as host, Red Deer would receive an economic impact of between $15 million and $25 million. Reports put the money injected into the Saskatoon regional economy as a result of the 2013 event at anywhere from $11 million to $19 million.
For it to be a successful tournament, Sutter added, it will take the co-operation and support of the city, the province and corporate community.
That doesn’t even get to the importance of putting a successful team on the ice.
In Saskatoon, the province and Saskatoon’s Credit Union Centre wound up having to pay $1 million to the CHL to cover a $3.5-million profit guarantee made in the bidding process.
But the major issue was on the ice: the Blades were not good enough to realistically challenge for the Memorial Cup.
Sutter said the hockey side of the equation should weigh much more heavily into the decision-making process.
“You really put your franchises in deep trouble if you put it into a city that’s not capable of handling it just on the hockey side,” said Sutter.
“(Saskatoon) was an event that was not sold out, it was an event that unfortunately the home team did not get through the first round of the playoffs and obviously had a hard time at the Mem Cup. When that happens, it has a tendency to not be as much excitement in the city as there needs to be.”
He said the Rebels struggled last year on the ice, but with an eye on 2016. They chose to rebuild the club with a raft of young players.
When 2016 rolls around, if the coaching and scouting staff have done their job, he said, they should be a veteran squad that will contend for the cup.
“It may be hard for fans to understand, but that’s something we had to do,” said Sutter. “If we want to have an opportunity to be one of the two teams to host the event, we had to make sure our team is at the standards it needs to be at, and the only way that was going to happen was by bringing in the amount of young players that we did last year.”
Sutter said Red Deer is the best suited team in Alberta to host the tournament, based on he facility, the market’s size and the potential of the team for 2016.
Calgary and Edmonton can’t bid because they can’t guarantee the availability of their buildings: their National Hockey League tenants could be involved in Stanley Cup playoffs.
Red Deer has also shown the ability to successfully host major sporting events in the past, like the world junior hockey, Subway Super Series junior games, Alberta Games, the Brier, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Skate Canada and other major events.
The city is also bidding for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, and Sutter views this as a chance for both bids to feed off of each other.
“It’s three years (apart) and I think this is a great stepping stone towards, just not our city but our province, to host the Winter Games in 2019,” said Sutter. “When you look at past events held in cities, there’s been certain events that lead into an event. When you go back to the Olympics in Vancouver, first it was the world juniors, then it was the Memorial Cup and then you got the Olympics. It’s momentum. It would be outstanding and I know the city feels that way.”
Sutter said they will be able to use many of the same elements from the bid put together in 2011 and that the process is already underway as the CHL examines the hockey and the business plans of both bids.
The winning bid will be announced early in the 2014-15 season.