Battalion owner can march north with head held high

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion with Mississauga Steelheads owner Elliott Kerr before the OHL franchise’s first game of the 2012-2013 season Sept. 21. Credit OHL Images

Brampton Battalion owner C. Scott Abbott could have left earlier, but should be admired and respected for keeping the Ontario Hockey League team in the city for 15 years, said Mississauga Steelheads owner Elliott Kerr.

“Nobody else stepped up to do what he did and many owners would have left that marketplace years earlier,” the president of sports management firm Landmark Sports Group told YourMississaugaBiz.com.

“This one person single-handedly brought major junior hockey to Brampton and he should be thanked and applauded,” he said.

Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell echoed Kerr’s comments, calling Abbott “a classy guy”  and a great hockey franchise owner, who moved his team to North Bay for next season because of poor fan support.

“He’s been pouring money into this love of his life for 15 years and I guess you can’t blame the guy for trying to lose a little less money.”

Fennell said on most nights only about 600 people attended Battalion games and half of the luxury boxes sat empty.

“Well, it’s evident you need to find an extra 2,000 people on a regular basis to attend the games and it looks like that’s the cornerstone of the North Bay offer,” she said.

“If he had 2,000 a night he’d be here. To sit there at every game and look out at thousands of empty seats something can just get to you and I think that just got to him.”

Kerr, whose Steelheads are currently on a three-year lease at the Hershey Centre, said he understood the economics behind the team’s recently announced move to North Bay for the 2013-2014 OHL season. He also said Abbott likely incurred heavy losses in recent years due to a declining attendance. “If you can’t get 3,000 plus fans, it’s very tough financially,” he said.

The home of the Battalion, the Powerade Centre on Kennedy Road South, has a maximum capacity of 4,800. Recent games have averaged less than 2,000 people per game.

Kerr said the many levels of hockey and entertainment available in the GTA put Brampton in a negative position, unlike many other cities with OHL teams. He also said a lack of traditional media covering the teams was a major difficulty. “If you look at teams in Sault St. Marie or Sudbury, they have daily newspapers, radio stations and in some cases, television stations,” he said. “In Brampton and Mississauga we don’t have any of those.”

Roger Lajoie called the close proximity of the Powerade Centre and the Hershey Centre was also a hinderance. “I think having two junior hockey franchises seven kilometers apart is a recipe for disaster,” said the long-term broadcaster and former senior vice president of the Steelheads.

Lajoie also said the GTA doesn’t have the “love and the passion” for amateur sports compared to the United States and many other cities in Canada. “When you combine that with the competition and the demand on people’s time, I think the Battalion moving is the best move for the team and very unfortunate for the small number of real die-hard fans they have.”

Kerr said there are currently no plans for specific marketing designed to draw Battalion fans to Steelhead games, as there’s still one full season left. “If in time, Brampton Battalion fans based on proximity would like to become Steelheads fans, my gosh we’d embrace them and appreciate their support,” he said, noting it would be with the approval and cooperation of the Battalion ownership. “In time I guess we’ll see if that happens.”

Kerr said Abbott’s legacy should be exposing the city of Brampton to a great level of hockey for 15 years. “He encouraged more families and kids into the sport and healthy lifestyle,” Kerr said. “He should be regarded as one of the greatest builders of hockey in the Brampton area.”

Scott Abott was inducted into the Brampton Hall of Fame in 2005.

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