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Sports clubs grapple with financial losses

The COVID-19 pandemic has not just wreaked financial havoc on Airdrie’s businesses, but also on the city’s non-profit sports clubs.

Sports leagues and associations were among the first groups to be impacted by the pandemic, with seasons and tournaments postponed or cancelled as early as March 12. With restrictions on gatherings still in effect, sports teams are prohibited from holding practices and leagues are not allowed to field games.

Clubs have had to refund registration fees to parents and watch as large-scale fundraisers have been cancelled.

“Financially, it’s crippled us,” said Keith Berg, president of the RockyView Lacrosse Association (RVLA). “We’re going to have a few thousand dollars in our account once we get to our year-end in September, but that’s where we are.”

After the Alberta Lacrosse Association announced the 2020 box lacrosse season would be cancelled, RVLA approved an updated budget at its board meeting April 8, accounting for the financial impact of the pandemic. The budget included roughly $34,000 in revenue and more than $105,000 in expenses – a $71,000 deficit.

According to Berg, RVLA was already forecasting a large deficit this year, as the association was planning to replace all of its uniforms and equipment at a cost of nearly $50,000 – an expense he said the association budgets for every eight or nine years.

Revenue from registration fees and tryout fees – much of which had to be refunded to parents ­– account for about 70 per cent of RVLA’s income, Berg said. The rest comes from fundraisers, such as selling 50/50 tickets at Calgary Roughnecks games and the association’s annual Fun Day. Those fundraisers will not occur this year.

“When parents are only paying 70 per cent of the overall operating cost, and then we lose all the revenue from the other things, it’s hard,” Berg said.  “We couldn’t physically give back everyone’s money because we physically didn’t have the money in cash flow – that’s what it ultimately came down to.

“We told the parents, we’re not hiding anything from them – these are the dollars and cents. That new budget is basically a cost-to-date.”

According to the budget, there are about 400 players registered with RVLA. The association provides lacrosse teams and programs for youth aged six to 16, as well as a competitive U21 girls team.

Due to the club’s financial situation, Berg said RVLA will have to be diligent in 2021, and potentially raise player fees.

“Looking at history, we’ll probably be OK,” he said.

“I think we’ll have to cut back on the extra things people want, like more practices, goalie clinics and drop-in floor times before tryouts. We might not be able to facilitate that stuff on the club’s dime.”

Another sports club that is weathering the storm is the Airdrie and District Soccer Association (ADSA). With roughly 1,700 players registered, ADSA is one of the largest minor sports associations in Airdrie.

With the 2020 outdoor season in limbo, President Jason Owens said the club has seen a considerable drop in revenue from registration fees, though it has managed to retain its staff so far.

"Financially, our club is not in horrible shape, so we can afford to absorb a little bit, but if it stretches on for too long, we’ll have to make some decisions that probably aren’t as palatable," he said, adding ADSA is looking at different financial assistance programs the government has announced for non-profits.

"Anything we can get our hands on, we’ll definitely be looking at, for sure."

The cancellation of the outdoor season would reduce ADSA's yearly revenue by about 50 per cent, Owens said. One major loss would be a tournament the club holds every summer, which generally attracts more than 200 competing teams.

On the flip side, he said, the club’s expenses are also way down, as teams are not booking field rentals.

"There’s a little bit of a reprieve there, but we’re still paying for staff,” he said.

While the upcoming season might be cancelled, Owens said ADSA coaches are still trying to keep their athletes engaged with personal training programs they can do at home.

"It’s a bit of a struggle, but we have a great technical staff helping put those together, doing some video training,” he said.

For the Airdrie Aces track-and-field club, the timing of the pandemic came right as the athletes were preparing for the outdoor track season.

With national championships cancelled this summer, President Jodie Matsuba-Szucs said Aces athletes are still keeping in shape, albeit with no specific meets on the horizon. 

"People are just staying fit in the hopes that we can salvage some of the season – if things open up and we can get a few meets in June or July,” she said. "At this point, the cancellation of everything is indefinite.”

Fortunately, Matsuba-Szucs said the club’s registration fees are always collected in the fall because the Aces’ largest annual expense is renting indoor facility space in the winter. That means the pandemic hasn’t had as much of a financial impact.

"We can stay afloat for the rest of the season with bottle drives and things like that," she said, adding next year's fees could be raised 15 to 25 per cent. "Of course, those things are on hold right now too, but we’re not panicking yet."

The club did cancel a casino fundraiser, Matsuba-Szucs said, which only occurs every three years. 

"Typically, you would gain in the neighbourhood of $50,000, which would cover you for three years – [more than] $15,000 per year to help offset costs," she said.

The funds raised would have been used for rental fees, coach stipends and replacing broken equipment such as javelins, hammer throw wires and hurdles, she added.

"Those are the things that break, just because of the nature of the sport, and they each cost hundreds of dollars," she said. "A competition javelin is $400. If you throw it once and it hits a rock and splays, it’s garbage.

"You’re talking about thousands of dollars in equipment that we budget for, that we’re not going to be able to buy. We will just have to make due with what we have."

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19