The 2012-13 season marked the fourth in a row that the Abbotsford Heat accrued a deficit that will be covered by the City of Abbotsford.

Updated: Heat shortfall for 2012-13 season is $1.66 million

The Abbotsford Heat's operating deficit for the 2012-13 season will cost local taxpayers $1.66 million.

The Abbotsford Heat’s operating deficit for the 2012-13 season will cost local taxpayers $1.66 million.

The City of Abbotsford released the numbers on Monday for year four of the 10-year supply fee agreement between the American Hockey League team anvd Global Spectrum, which manages the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) on behalf of the city. The contract guarantees the Heat an annual break-even budget of $5.7 million to play out of the AESC.

In 2011-12, the public purse was tapped for $1.76 million.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman termed the 5.7 per cent reduction of the previous season’s shortfall “a move in the right direction”, but noted “there’s room for improvement, lots of it.”

“We’re working very hard with our partners, both the Heat and Global Spectrum, in trying to improve the numbers,” he said.

“I’d love to say that there’s a magic formula for this, but it’s just incredibly challenging. But just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean that you give up and you don’t continue to work on it.”

Monday’s announcement brings the total payout from the city to the hockey team to $5.24 million, including $450,000 during the inaugural 2009-10 season, and $1.37 million and $1.76 million the next two years, respectively.

According to AHL attendance figures, the Heat drew an average of 3,778 fans per game last season, which ranked 28th out of 30 teams in the league. That represented a 6.6 per cent increase over the 3,545 they drew the previous year, a boost which can be attributed to the effects of the NHL lockout and an increase in group ticket sales over the second half of the season.

According to the city’s press release, the Heat’s “paid customer” base (which does not include comped tickets) was 3,221 fans per game last season, up from 2,653 in 2011-12.

The team is owned by the Calgary Flames, and operated locally by Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment, which includes businessmen Lane Sweeting, Barry Marsden, Ron McNeil and Fred Strumpski.

“It’s going in the right direction, but it’s not satisfactory,” Sweeting said of the 2012-13 deficit. “($1.66 million) is not acceptable to us. We’re working hard to try and get it lower.”

In previous years, the final Heat deficit numbers had been made public sometime between September and November, with the latest release date being Nov. 19.

This year the process of reconciling the Heat and Global Spectrum’s figures ran into January, which city manager George Murray attributed to new staff reviewing the documents.

“It’s a complex contract that requires it to be reviewed,” said Murray, who has been on the job since February 2013.

“With the new staff at the city, we wanted to go through and make sure that (with) the numbers, that we had some sort of agreement.”

The supply fee contract does contain a five-year financial review clause, but changes have to be agreed on by all parties. Sweeting said there have been no discussions to that effect at this time.

The AESC also runs an overall deficit which is calculated separately from the hockey team’s, since the two organizations’ fiscal years end at different times. In 2012, the arena’s shortfall was $1.97 million. The numbers for 2013 will be released in the spring.

Banman said the city is doing what it can to help make the hockey team a success, working to improve fan experience in areas like traffic flow.

“There is one easy answer – that’s for people to come to a game,” he said.

“We have no choice but to work hard to make this better.”

More coverage: Heat attendance down this season

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