The prospect of NCAA Division I hockey at SFU is ‘exciting’ but the business model must work
"We have to learn if Division I hockey can work in our market," says Theresa Hanson, SFU senior director for Athletics and Recreation.
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The possibility that Simon Fraser University could one day ice its own NCAA Division I hockey team is an exciting one, but determining a business model for such a program is still in its early stages, said Theresa Hanson, senior director for Athletics and Recreation at SFU.
The SFU Clan is the only Canadian university program in NCAA, competing in Division II. The idea of trying to bring a Division I hockey program to the institution had been talked about before Hanson was appointed to her position last October. She is, however, helping this idea with its next step.
“There had been lots of discussion before I came and I thought it would be prudent on the part of the university to be in a position to make an informed decision,” she said, adding SFU has only recently signed an agreement with a U.S.-based consultant to look into this matter.
“There were lots of discussions and lots of support prior to me coming here. It was just, ‘OK, what do we do now?’ And that’s why I think it’s really important for the university to have all that information before they can make a decision.”
Hanson said the consultation process should take between three to six months, and a decision from the university could come by early fall. Should the university go ahead with this plan, a Division I team at SFU would, at the earliest, be ready for the 2018-19 season.
“It’s probably too early at this stage to tell that. But it would not be before that,” she said.
This past season, TSN showed 44 NCAA hockey games on its network, including the Frozen Four earlier this month, and there are often a number of high-profile free agent signings of Division I players to NHL contracts every year.
In Vancouver, Canucks fans had a rooting interest in the Frozen Four, with 2015 first-round pick Brock Boeser representing North Dakota in the national championship game and goalie Thatcher Demko playing for Boston College in the semifinal.
“To be able to provide that option for the Canadian hockey player to stay in Canada, play in the NCAA … and get a degree – SFU is known as one of Canada’s best comprehensive universities – that’s a huge benefit for all,” said Hanson.
“I think it’s really exciting and that’s why it’s got to be a business model that works. Not a model that works for one or two years. We’re talking for the next 50 years for Simon Fraser.”
A potential home arena is one of the many factors that will go into this consultation process, said Hanson. However, she said it’s too early to comment on local facilities that might be the best fit for a Division I program.
Other factors include conference affiliation, travel, cost, revenue, number of student athletes and scholarships, said Hanson.
“Obviously, we have to look at all the costs. We have to learn if Division I hockey can work in our market. We’ve got to look at revenue opportunities from gate, to broadcast partnership to sponsorship. We will have to generate significant revenue to make that work,” said Hanson.
“The relationship with the community and with the corporate side of things is going to be really important. And, of course, you have to look at a facility.”
The school’s current hockey program is a club team that competes in the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League and uses the Bill Copeland Sports Centre, with a 2,000-seat capacity, in Burnaby as its home rink. The club schedules exhibition games against U.S. college programs in addition to its BCIHL schedule, and is “keen” on gaining varsity status, said Hanson.
“We always want to aspire to do better, to provide more for that student-athlete experience. So I’m optimistic in terms of really look at this consultation as a chance to see if there’s a business model that works. I’m excited about that,” said Hanson.
“I would love to say we’d be able to have (Division I) hockey but we’re really early for that.”