This week, the Portland Winterhawks sent out a letter to the season ticket holders, which acted as an outline of the WHL info plus a few local pieces to the letter. Here is the letter sent to all:
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Greetings from the 2019-20 Western Hockey League regular season champion Portland Winterhawks! As COVID-19 continues to challenge us all, it feels good to remember the championship-level effort put forth by Mike Johnston and our young team. Among all the teams in the WHL, we believe Mike has the Winterhawks uniquely positioned to hit the ground running when the 2020-21 season gets underway.
A few years ago, we introduced the “Letter from the President” format to update you on the most important matters facing the Portland Winterhawks. This letter will focus on three key topics: 1) new ownership for the Winterhawks, 2) WHL return-to-play for the 2020-21 season and 3) the upcoming season ticket renewal process.
Search for New Winterhawks Ownership:
In early May it became apparent that Bill Gallacher’s reign as the owner of the Portland Winterhawks would soon be coming to an end. This was brought on by a series of financial changes that took place at our parent company’s level. As a result, the Winterhawks franchise was immediately placed under protection of a court-appointed Receiver who, along with the Western Hockey League, began preparations to find new ownership for the franchise. ( WHL Statement) From day one of this process, the WHL and the Receiver have committed to retaining the successful coaching and business teams led by Head Coach and General Manager Mike Johnston and myself along with our talented management and coaching staffs. All parties have also been steadfast in their resolve that the Winterhawks will remain in the city of Portland. We want to take this opportunity to thank Bill for his tremendous leadership as our owner for the last 12 years and for allowing us to achieve our phenomenal win / loss record through his guidance and support.
The idea of owning one of junior hockey’s premier franchises in a major metropolitan market has been very enticing to many potential new owners. Approximately fifteen groups or individuals entered the due diligence process in early June to review the opportunity. Both the Receiver and the WHL anticipate that new ownership should be in place by late August to mid-September. We are very confident that the process will yield a very fine fit for the organization and the city of Portland.
Returning to Play in 2020:
Earlier this month WHL commissioner Ron Robison announced plans to begin play in early October 2020 under a comprehensive set of return-to-play protocols. ( WHL Statement) The detailed plan sets guidelines, benchmarks, and safety precautions for every aspect of our operations including player care & training, practices, travel, game play, arena operations, and fan attendance.
- Health and safety of players, staff, and fans is the top priority.
- Fans must be able to attend games in order to start play
- Work with all six state and provincial governments to resume play
- All 22 teams must be able to play games in their home arena
- Priority is a full 68-game regular season
- Goal to start first weekend of October 2020
In addition to the WHL goals and guidelines, the Winterhawks belong to an Oregon sports coalition working collectively with the State of Oregon to define expectations and protocols that will help guide our return to play protocol in the COVID-19 environment. While some coalition teams may return to play before fan attendance is allowed the ultimate goal is, of course, to be able to host home games with fans in the seats. Each step forward for any Oregon-based team brings the Winterhawks and the WHL a step closer to that goal and to getting play underway.
With health and safety as our top priority we should be prepared for a new fan experience when play does resume. Additional security screening, personal protective measures for fans and employees and a series of social distancing precautions will all be a part of Winterhawks home games. These precautions are not just about meeting return-to-play benchmarks at the start of the season; they are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy while participating in all team-related activities so that play can continue for the duration of the season. Every single person who enters a WHL arena this fall must be committed to abiding by these measures to achieve this goal.
Season Ticket Renewals for 2020-21:
With the announcement of return-to-play protocols and the planned early-October start, we feel comfortable that now is the time to resume ticket renewal process for all Premier Members, Full Season Ticket Holders, and 20-Game Season Ticket Holders. Please watch for two additional emails from our office before season ticket payments resume in August:
Later this week you will receive more details about the 2020-21 season, ticketing updates, and plans for various contingencies that may arise as the local risk levels change.
- Early next week, our ticket office will begin sending your individual season ticket renewal information emails.
- Be sure to watch your email inbox.
It is safe to say that the 2020-21 season will be different than anything we have experienced in our 45 years on the ice. Rest assured that our entire organization is committed to keeping you healthy and safe at our games while providing the most entertaining experience possible.
Thank you for your time and your continued support of Winterhawks hockey in Portland.
Doug Piper, President
Portland Winterhawks Hockey Club
The biggest takeaway from the letter is that the Hawks feel the league will try to run a 68-game schedule. This letter comes a day earlier than the latest Covid-19 numbers, which are on a huge upswing. With three months until the scheduled restart of the CHL, news like this can’t help anyone. Social distancing is tough already for some, and in a closed environment, it may be far more difficult. We could see a one way in and then one way travel which may be tough to both enforce and be practical. The WHL posted their statement as well ages ago before the US had some drastic numbers. The border being closed at least until July 21 for non-emergency crossings makes it very difficult for either side to have players attend camps and other functions.
Other takeaways are the number of interested parties to become the owners of the Hawks. Like Ron Robison has said in the WHL articles leading to now, Portland is a big fish. With 2 potential venues, a solid fan base and a large population, Portland is one of just three clubs in the WHL with NHL-sized arenas. Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta are the other two.
We knew it would come sooner or later that Season Ticket accounts would see charges starting. The question is: will there be a mass exodus? With jobs still not back to where they were, several months of limited to no income for people, one has to wonder if the disposable income will be there and in what capacity. Several have posted online about not renewing tickets or shrinking to smaller packages. Is this just a few barking or will it be a bigger pool? The fact is, to survive, the Hawks need to sell tickets. The WHL is a ticket-driven vehicle and Portland is undoubtedly needed by the WHL to help the cause being that it is a bigger fish so to speak. The question will be on social distancing. Weekdays are a no-brainer for seat availability. Weekends, where most teams earn their bread and butter, the distancing issue is a great deal tougher when revenue is so badly needed.
Overall, this may be a wait-and-see deal. If one sees October as a start date, camps would be a week or two prior and tournaments may be scrapped or at least be limited in fans. As it is, with the exception of rivalry clashes, the US tournament games are low enough in attendance to easily do social distancing. The issue may be in some Canadian cities where smaller areas are being used that would not allow for distancing. It remains to be seen.
The import draft was held online this week as both Portland and the Everett Silvertips passed in that they would be returning both imports from last season. In Everett, Michal Gut and Kaper Puutio will be coming back. In Portland, Simon Knak and Jonas Brondberg will be lacinging up their skates for the Hawks. In the draft, two goaltenders were chosen, one by Winnipeg Ice and the other by the Tri-City Americans. Eleven imports were forwards with the balance of the 25 selections going as defensemen. In total, 7 selections came from the Czech Republic, 5 from Slovakia, 4 from Finland, 3 from Belarus, 2 each from Sweden and Russia and 1 each from Denmark and Latvia. Surprisingly, none came from Switzerland, which has produced some notable talent in recent days.
The potential class action suit is still going on, but looking at the situation, most of the alleged incidents took place many years ago, with the most recent listed as 2009. Not to say that any of this is acceptable, but things have drastically changed since then as to both the players and club actions as they look to be more professional. As it stands right now, nothing has progressed further on this and it may be quite some time before anything comes of it.