Oilers, EE Football Team take pandemic hit

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

The Edmonton Oilers will start the NHL playoffs without paying fans to boost the team's bottom line while the city's second-biggest sports franchise announced it lost $7.1 million after the CFL was sidelined in 2020 by COVID-19.

After a tough 2020 for professional sports when NHL teams lost an estimated US$720 million, the 18,500 empty seats at Rogers Place when the Oilers face the Winnipeg Jets on May 19 mean more millions of dollars in lost ticket revenue.

Ticket prices in 2017, when the team last hosted a playoff game with fans in the stands, averaged $124 for the cheapest upper bowl seats — meaning a loss of at least $2.3 million in gate receipts for each home game.

The province's ban on in-person service will cost Edmonton's restaurants, pubs, bars, and lounges the $3 million in local economic activity that Fortune magazine estimates each playoff game generates in Canada.

Also taking a financial beating from the pandemic, the EE Football Team reported revenue plunged 84% from $23.5 million in 2019 to $3.8 million last year. The team cited the loss of all ticket and concessions sales, along with sponsorships and league distributions. The Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy brought in $2.5 million to reduce the loss.

The Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones reported the club's trust fund emerged from the cancelled season untouched at $15.3 million with almost $5 million in cash on hand.

Connor McDavid is lighting up the net but Edmonton sports franchises are losing financially to the pandemic. (Courtesy of the Edmonton Oilers)

Connor McDavid is lighting up the net but Edmonton sports franchises are losing financially to the pandemic. (Courtesy of the Edmonton Oilers)

That provides a financial cushion going into a planned 14-game season tentatively scheduled to start on Aug. 5. "Our worst-case contingency would be to start and being forced to stop. Regardless, when we model this up, we'd be able to start the next year," said the incoming board of directors chair Ian Murray, who is also president and general counsel at business consulting firm IMC.

A crucial factor to the financial performance of both the Edmonton professional football and hockey teams will be getting the go-ahead from Alberta Health Services to allow fans back at Rogers Place and Commonwealth Stadium. "We are all looking forward to finally seeing our team compete again," said outgoing EE team chair Janice Agrios.

League commissioner Randy Ambrosie said getting back on the field will require allowing "a significant number of fans in the stands, in a significant number of venues at the start of the season, and in the rest of our venues soon after that, so a 2021 season is financially tenable for our clubs."

The Oilers were hopeful they'd be able to host their first spectators in early April but spiking coronavirus infection numbers killed that plan, the Edmonton Sun reported.