February 14, 2023
The decision by Hockey Canada to follow USA Hockey and introduce cross ice play to younger players in 2018 resulted in significant debate amongst traditionalists of the game with regards to how it would impact player development – ironically there was little, or no discussion as to how it would impact the facility that would need to respond to the change. Nearly five-years later, rink managers and staff are still adjusting operations to accommodate a change that they had little or no input. Figure skating does not get a pass either as it was not long ago that they decided to hang a skating harness from many rink rafters with little pre-communication with facility owners and management. The standard defense of “it’s for the kids” was and is still used by most recreation users when they want more service at the same fees in our buildings.
Before anyone thinks that I am against change or growth of any sport or youth activity, I am not! I recognize and acknowledge the importance of the user/facility relationship and the benefits they bring. We both need each other to survive. I have been in the ice business before organized youth sport ruled the rinks. There was a time that youth sports were secondary users of the facility. Going back in time, younger players would open the rinks at 5 o’clock Saturday and Sunday mornings, not 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Teams would hold practice before school. There was a natural and acceptable use decorum created by youth users. Players would earn a prime time schedule through commitment and investment in their sport. Now everyone wants a 4-7pm Monday-Friday ice time rental.
As youth sport became more organized, the relationship with the facility became more clouded. The false sense of co-ownership of the facility based on the rental fees being paid became common. There is no doubt that youth sports write big cheques to the facility for use. In reality, these cheques are most likely coming nowhere near covering basic costs to open the doors of the rink. Youth sports is still one of the most heavily non-users subsidized municipal services in most communities. Organizations like Hockey Canada have benefited from these local relationships.
Yes, Hockey Canada has many revenue sources, but their entire program is held in venues they do not own or directly contribute to the capital upkeep of the infrastructure – that are in many cases crumbling. No, this is not an appeal to have Hockey Canada or any other youth sport organization to hand over their surplus to fix the rinks but rather an appeal for all stakeholders to understand that investment in our aging infrastructure is at a critical point that requires investment. When I started as staff with ORFA in 2000, we began a partnership with the U.S. Ice Rink Association (a.k.a. STAR). This organization was an investment by USA Hockey and USA Figure Skating to assist American Ice Rink owners in improving their operations. I was actually stunned when the ice rates being charged by U.S. rinks were shared. The rates were charged to all users regardless of who was using the ice sheet. In reality, as time passed, we (ORFA) began to realize that U.S. rinks, which were primarily private operations, were using a business case model that reflected the necessary financial resources required to operate and maintain their infrastructure. There is lots to unpack here on this topic that I will put on hold for another day and return to the cross ice barrier decision conversation.
Ice rinks have had long relationships with many of their organized users. These users grew to expect a higher level of service than unorganized rentals or user groups and at times felt like they should be able to use the facility as they deemed fit. The smaller the community, the more complicated the relationship. During the user/facility relationship evolution, the growth of other organizations occurred as well as facility operations and management became more administratively driven. In the past years, ORFA has discussed the pegging of sporting nets and suggested to our members that we have no responsibility to provide this service as securing sporting nets presents a high level of risk and must be properly researched and correctly performed, each time a different age and level of skill steps on the ice. The ORFA also discussed that if facility staff were to be involved in this service, an additional fee should be considered to the rental cost. Organized leagues that wanted to use volunteers to perform the task created another level of risk that needed to be considered and managed due to risk and insurance liabilities. [More]
Cross ice barriers come in different designs and installation complexities that present the same staffing costs and risk discussion as securing sporting nets. And in addition, the storage of these systems in the facility, when not in use, adds another level of internal operational and management obligations that is included in the ORFA Using Volunteers for Cross Ice Set-up and Takedown Guideline. [More]
We may not be able to turn back time but we can learn from these types of experiences and set the tone as to how future changes by our users will be undertaken. Facility managers would be wise to place all organized leagues on notice that all changes to operations must be discussed 30, 60 or 90 plus days in advance of any change to operations or service level occurring. Building this information into rental agreements is strongly recommended. Reviewing user fees to reflect the level of service being provided must also become common practice as referenced in ORFA's Analyzing and Calculating User Fees Guideline. [More]
As a past Recreation Director, I learned in later years that my role in facility management was a balance of both user and non-user advocate. It was at times a difficult responsibility. In the end, I viewed my responsibility as researching detailed financial matters so that senior administrative staff would have the real costs of doing business and that they may make informed decisions. If our industry is to survive, this type of commitment must form the foundation of our current and future recreation facility management responsibilities.
Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training and Research Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association
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