While many were excited for the return of hockey in Saskatchewan, it seems the fans haven’t been coming out to the games like they used to. This is being seen across the rinks of the SJHL, where attendance in October was down by 29 percent from the same month during the 2019-20 season.  

“I think with the requirements to enter the buildings, I think, would be one of them,” explained league president Bill Chow when asked what he is hearing as some of the factors for the reduction in attendance. Starting on October 1st, those who wanted to attend an SJHL game needed to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from within the past 72 hours. 

“I think the other thing would be the longer fall that we’re having. That usually has an effect, regardless of COVID-19,” he added. 

The drop in attendance varies across the league. Some teams, such as the Melfort Mustangs and the Kindersley Klippers, had a relatively small drop in attendance per game in October. Others, such as the Estevan Bruins, Battlefords North Stars or Nipawin Hawks, had their average attendance per game drop significantly. For Estevan and North Battleford, those numbers correspond with two Saskatchewan Health Authority regions with the lowest percentage of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  

In Weyburn, the Richardson Pioneer Weyburn Red Wings have seen a reduction of around 150 fans per game, or 23 percent from October of the 2019-20 season. That year, they were 8th in average attendance with 644 fans per game. This year, the average of 494 fans a game in October was the 5th highest in the league. 

The reduction in fans coming to the games is also a cause for concern when it comes to the viability of the league. For the teams of the SJHL, season and gameday tickets are the largest sources of revenue throughout the season. 

“Obviously with being 30 percent down right now, teams are going to have to find other sources of revenue, or income streams, because that’s how the teams survive,” Chow pointed out.  

When the provincial government put the restrictions in place that resulted in the cancellation of the 2020-21 season, the league received some assistance from the Ministry of Trade and Export Development. A grant of $1 million was provided for the 12 teams to help cover what was lost in terms of gate revenues. 

“That avenue hasn’t been approached yet,” Chow said of the current situation, and whether they will be looking at possible assistance from the provincial government this season. “Right now at 30 percent down for one month, it is a significant number; if that was to stay there for the whole season, I think at that point in time is when we’d have to consider that.” 

The drop in attendance isn’t just affecting the SJHL. There has been a significant drop in attendance at the major junior level too. The five Saskatchewan-based teams in the league have seen the average attendance per game drop by 545, or 17 percent, from the 2019-20 season. For one of those teams, the Swift Current Broncos, the decrease has been nearly a third. 

As for the provincial government, they have not clarified if they will be willing to provide financial assistance if requested by the SJHL, or any other junior hockey league operating in the province. They have stated that the teams are allowed to operate at full capacity and that ticketed sports events, like all SJHL games, are required to follow the province’s proof of COVID-19 vaccination policy.