On the whole, Saskatchewan Senior hockey took a drastic hit his year with 17 teams and counting either folding or taking a year to regroup as many players have decided against playing this year due to the Saskatchewan Government’s restrictions and precautions in place involving vaccine status or hesitancy to possibly being exposed to the virus and possibly spreading it to vulnerable friends and family. Others just want more money to play hockey.
Saskatchewan Senior Hockey is a different animal than it was 20 years ago. The quality of players has improved, there is no question about that. Decades ago your average senior hockey player came right from your local minor hockey associations and maybe played as high as U18 AA or Junior B. These days the average player for example in the QVHL has at least one season of Junior A, Major Junior, Minor Pro or College under their belt before making their way to a Senior Mens league in Saskatchewan. This is good, however we now have what resembles a collection of minor pro leagues scattered across the province and the biggest purse seems to net the best players due to restrictions on offering contracts longer than one season.
Today’s players also have more knowledge when it comes to brain injuries and mental health which in turn has made many players returning home from Minor Pro, Major Junior or College hockey to value their skills and safety more than in years past, therefore increasing the want to get paid to play. From my research at the Senior A & B levels in Saskatchewan only approx. 20% of the players province wide draw a salary or pay cheque of any size. Currently the average player within this 20% is paid $100 per game with some players grabbing higher price tags into the $400 to $600 per game range. The highest paid salaries are about on par with the lowest paid salary in the East Coast Hockey League where teams are required in 2021-22 to pay rookie players a minimum salary of $500 per week and returning players a minimum salary of $545 per week. That's if they played the same amount of games.
The average Saskatchewan Senior Men's league plays 12-18 games a season or 1.11 games per week with the bottom of the paid players making between $1200-$1800 per season or $100 per game. Average that out across the whole roster and it's roughly $25 per game per player, which is less than minimum wage ($11.80/hr) in the province.
Let's keep in mind the lowest salary for a Zamboni Driver in Canada according to glassdoor.ca is $30,579 per year or $588 per week.
In the ECHL, each club plays 72 games. This amounts to 2.57 games per week or approx. 10 games per month, making the average rookie salary in the ECHL roughly $200 per regular season game or $14,400 per season.
Move one league level down to the Southern Professional Hockey League, where these clubs pay their players between 4,200 and $14,000 per season for 58 regular season games. Making the lowest paid player $72.41 per game.
Last but not least the Federal Prospects Hockey League, the FPHL is a seven team professional league in Eastern United States of America and is considered the lowest ranked Minor Pro Hockey League where players are getting paid as low as $150 per week to play a 56 game regular season. That's 2.33 games a week at $73.89 per game.
All four leagues draw players from the same Junior and College programs across North America so what is the difference and why aren’t they paid the same? That answer is simple, fans and eyeballs.
The ECHL averages 5,178 with the highest being the Fort Wayne Komets at 8,090 per game in 2019-20. With a low end adult ticket going for $14 per game that's a projected revenue of $113,260 per game.
The SPHL has an average attendance of 3,248 per game. With a low end ticket going for $17 per game that’s an average revenue per game of $58,464.
The FPHL has an average of 1,699 fans per game with the lowest being the Battle Creek Rumble Bees at 353 fans per game and the highest being the Columbus River Dragons with an average of 3046 fans per game. With a low end single game ticket coming in at $10 the league average revenue per game is $16,995.
Most Saskatchewan Senior Hockey clubs average 300 fans, yes three zero zero. With an average ticket price of $10 doesn’t leave much salary room at a mere $3000 per game.
This has been the status quo for years for some clubs, but not every team can afford a ringer from Winnipeg or Calgary that flies in just to play home games. A lot of the teams in C and D categories still resemble what senior hockey once was decades ago, local hockey with local unpaid players, sponsored by the community. The moral of the story is, you get what you pay for and if you want the quality of play in Saskatchewan to grow or stay where it is you will need to feed it properly. Unfortunately this might mean many teams will go hungry in today's economy so to speak.
Down to the brass tacks you need butts in the seats, ears listening on the radio or eyeballs on the screen to get salaries inline with other leagues of similar caliber across North America or Europe and the players will stay.
I wish everyone luck this season and I will see most of you at a rink somewhere in snowy Saskatchewan this winter.
SNN Sunday Night Hockey