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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Report from the Rock: The last word (for now) on St. John’s arena drama

Since the conclusion of the Newfoundland Growlers’ first homestand a little over a week ago, the speculation has been rampant, trying to figure out where they’ll call home the next time they touch down on the island. Yesterday, we received that answer, not just for the remainder of this season, but for the foreseeable future.

In a joint statement released by the team and St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, both parties announced that they have come to an agreement on the team returning to the Mary Brown’s Centre, effective immediately.

In late August, the team signed a three-year lease with SJSE. In late October, just over a week prior to the home opener, the Growlers were suspended from using the arena as allegations of harrassment towards employees of the MBC were leveraged to employees of Deacon Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group behind the Growlers.

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Per yesterday’s release “The investigation respecting complaints as between employees of SJSEL and DSE is ongoing. SJSEL states there were never any allegations of a physical or sexual nature. Neither players nor coaches of the Newfoundland Growlers are involved in the allegations in any way. SJSEL and DSE are both committed to a respectful workplace and are committed to respectful social media use.”

Below that statement was a list of items that this new agreement covers, including “operational stability for the remainder of the three-year lease agreement,” “provisions for an autonomous operational committee comprising representatives from both SJSEL and DSE to support operational requirements and obligations,” “continuation of the arbitration commenced by DSE against SJSEL” as well as a joint agreement to support a media blackout on the continuing harrassment investigation as well as the arbitration. So what does all this mean?

On November 17, Dean MacDonald, the owner of the team, appeared at a chamber of commerce luncheon for St. John’s neighbouring municipalities of Mount Pearl and Paradise. Over the course of 45 minutes or so, he laid out a detailed history of his company, the Growlers origins, as well as the history behind the constant disputes between himself and the city and a plan to build the team a new arena:

“In late August, myself and Christian Somerton (Executive Vice President of Deacon) went in and we spoke with the mayor and city manager and said “look… the Leafs are in town, it’s late August, we’ve got a problem. This isn’t working anymore, we can’t be signing leases in late August when our partners in Toronto are trying to get players and coaches here, (the uncertainty) doesn’t work, it’s affecting the business, so we’ve made a decision. Let get through this three-year lease, we ask you to treat us respectfully and professionally for the three years and we’re gonna build our own arena. We can’t do this anymore.’ We have so much to give, but we’re not getting much back, so (the partnership has) not been a match made in heaven, let’s put it that way.”

More to the point, MacDonald reiterated that attempts to purchase the arena failed and reminders to city council about a signed agreement to turn over day-to-day operations of the then-Mile One Centre, (which was a requirement from the Leafs management organization in the terms and conditions of setting up the affiliation in the first place,) fell on deaf ears.

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Citing such commonalities as having a will-call booth at the arena, not having to wait half an hour to get served at a concession stand, having snack vendors in the crowds, bringing beer and popcorn right to a fan’s seat, a working arena sound system, and simply having glass clean enough to see through at ice level, MacDonald explained some of the core factors in the ongoing dispute.

“Our exercise has been to try and push- firmly but gently- to say “we want our fans to have the same experience as others in arenas all across North America” That’s it, that’s our beef (with St. John’s City Council) we’re not asking a lot, we’re asking for the same as everywhere else… but when you ask, apparently you become an enemy of the state”

“(Long term) We want the CBS arena experience. We had a season ticket holder reach out and tell us he’s been a season ticket holder (at Mile One) for 20 years, going back to the St. John’s Maple Leafs days, and when he got his tickets this past weekend, he said it was the first time ever he received an email from the facility reminding him when the game was and what his parking options were. What a novel concept right?” MacDonald said.

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Critics have suggested that the entire presentation was a ploy on behalf of MacDonald and DSE to get the city to come back to the bargaining table, and from the look of the agreement, it appears as though things in that regard have worked out for the Growlers camp, but personally, I’m still convinced that the announced plan will carry on. The Growlers will play out the balance of their current lease at Mary Brown’s Centre, and in three years, the doors will be open on a permanent home for the team that is closer to the areas that the vast majority of the fanbase live in.

The Growlers are currently on the road until the end of the month. Their first home game back at the Mary Brown’s Centre will be on December 1.