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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Report from the Rock: Drama boils over and the city wins, for now

It’s a dark day for sports fans in the city of St. John’s. Perhaps the darkest it has seen since the day it was announced that the St. John’s Maple Leafs were leaving town… or the day it was announced that the St. John’s Fog Devils were ceasing operations… or the day that the St. John’s Ice Caps got relocat- wait, I’m sensing a pattern here.

This morning it was announced that St. John’s city council and the St. John’s Sports and Entertainment committee, which manages the Growlers home arena (formerly Mile One Centre, recently renamed to Mary Brown’s Centre… yes the chicken franchise) have evicted the Newfoundland Growlers just nine days before their home opener, citing accusations of disrespectful workplace conduct towards the staff of the arena.

I wanted to write about the Growlers’ 4-0 record to start the season, the stellar play of prospects like Keith Petruzzelli, Noel Hoefenmayer and Ryan Chyzowski, and how much I was looking forward to the home opener for the opportunity to cover a game in-person for the first time, but instead we have to talk about this crap, so let’s get into it.

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I have previously written about the drama that was brewing between the city and Growlers’ ownership, as well as the eventual end of that drama when the team and city struck a deal for a lease agreement, but apparently, we celebrated the end of the tensions a little bit too soon.

Here’s what we know at this time: immediately after the lease agreement announcement, local fans were urged by the city and team to secure their tickets right away… but fans quickly found out that the box office at Mile One was closed and there was no way to make contact for over a week. In the weeks that have followed, fans have reported on the extremely slow process of going through season ticket renewals and expressed frustration that single-game tickets were completely unavailable, leading to the Growlers making a public statement a couple of days ago apologizing for something that we now know was not even their fault.

For their part, the city claimed to be dealing with logistic issues and changing public health guidelines, which may have affected arena capacity, despite Newfoundland having a mandatory vaccine passport system in place for sporting arenas that would theoretically permit full capacity. So that’s suspicious.

The exact nature of the allegations against the Growlers is unclear, but owner Dean Macdonald suggested in a brief media appearance this morning that the city believes that team staff and the public have put “undue stress” onto the box office workers over the lack of available tickets, and rather than go through an investigative process into any potential wrongdoing, the city instead opted to punish the team before any investigation has even begun. This constitutes a breach of contract and Macdonald says he will be suing the city council. A legal process that the city will no doubt use taxpayer money to pay for.

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And as a local, I can tell you, if there’s one thing the city council loves to do, it’s waste taxpayer money.

The timing of these issues is suspicious because of rumours that have swirled around town for the last week or two that Macdonald had plans in place to build a new permanent home for the Growlers somewhere in the St. John’s metro area, but outside of City Hall’s jurisdiction. Those rumours were confirmed as fact by Macdonald himself last night on the local NTV News broadcast. A formal announcement of this new arena and confirmation of its location are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

As for the Growlers and where they will play now? This is the latest update:

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As a fan of the team, at least they’ll have an opportunity to play in front of supportive fans. As a young reporter in journalism school who was looking forward to covering games in person? This sucks and City Council should be ashamed that their gross mismanagement of an arena that is in dire need of repair and should have been sold to a private owner years ago has driven yet another successful sports team from the downtown core.

For future updates to this story and everything else Growlers-related, stay tuned for the next Report from the Rock.

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