After months of rumour and speculation, the Vancouver Giants have made it official – they are moving to Langley.
The Western Hockey League (WHL) franchise made the announcement on Tuesday morning at the Langley Events Centre (LEC).
The agreement is for 10 years, said Ron Toigo, the Giants’ majority owner.
“It is a multi-year agreement. There is no subsidy or financial guarantee provided. It is more a partnership,” said Jason Winslade, the Township’s general manager of municipal administration and community services.
The Giants players will remain billeted in Ladner – they have a training facility there – but the team will hold some practices at the LEC.
There had been speculation that the Giants would partner with the city of Surrey to build a new rink in Bridgeview, but those plans have so far failed.
“I don’t know if it puts and end to those (rumours),” Toigo said. “Right now we are really focused on this. We put that on the back burner.”
The City of Surrey is looking for partners for a spectator-facility and will put up the land needed for such a project. But proposals from a number of groups – including the Giants – were rejected last summer.
“None of the proposals would take on the risk of deficit or liability,” said Surrey Coun. Bruce Hayne. “So council said we wouldn’t go forward, we didn’t want $1- to $2 million-a-year deficit.”
Hayne said the project isn’t dead as the city is “still serious in pursing partners, but it would likely need senior levels of government” to get involved. And having the Giants return to the table wouldn’t be ruled out.
“If they came to us with something that made sense, we’d look at it.”
But Toigo insists the WHL team isn’t looking at Surrey.
“The focus is to try and make it work here.”
The Giants entered the WHL in 2001 and spent their first 15 years at the Pacific Coliseum, winning the 2006 WHL championship and the 2007 Memorial Cup.
But the team has struggled with attendance – and on the ice – the past few seasons.
They averaged 5,815 fans per game in 2014/15 but that number dropped to 5,169 this past season.
That was still good for seventh in the league, according to hockeydb.com.
Calgary led the league with 8,217 fans per game. The league average for the 22-team league was 4,535.
The LEC holds 5,276 but Toigo said there is a possibility an additional 1,000 seats could be added.
“The bottom line is we haven’t been a very good team for the last number of years, which certainly played a big role in this,” Toigo said of the attendance woes.
The Giants played six games at the LEC in 2010 while the Pacific Coliseum was hosting events for the Vancouver Olympic Games. Toigo said it was not a smooth transition back then, citing traffic congestion and parking issues.
The team hosted a pre-season game against the Kelowna Rockets at the LEC in September – and while Toigo was not in attendance – Rockets owner Bruce Hamilton gave the venue a glowing review and suggested this was something Toigo should consider.
The Giants commissioned a professional polling company to conduct a survey of Metro Vancouver and Toigo said the numbers were staggering.
The poll showed that 80 per cent of the respondents said they would buy tickets to a game while 40 per cent said they would buy season tickets.
“This is where the growth is, this is where the young families are, this is where our demographic is,” he said. “You can get to (Langley) from everywhere.”
And while the team is expected to save a substantial amount of money with the move to the Fraser Valley, that was not the only factor.
“It is all about the best environment for the Giants to succeed and helping our young guys to become the players they want to be,” Toigo said, adding that he figures the atmosphere created by a full house in a facility the size of the LEC is worth “at least four or five wins a year.”
– with files from Rick Kupchuk