While the answer varies from franchise to franchise, the Ontario League's Kitchener Rangers offer a unique glimpse thanks to the organization's not-for-profit status and mandate of a public audit.
In the latest round of chatter surrounding the potential of a CHL players' union, TSN's Rick Westhead pointed out that the Ontario League's Kitchener Rangers made $6.2 million in revenue for the 2012-13 season. But if you dig deeper, there's a lot more fascinating information about the club.
The Rangers are unique in that they are a not-for-profit organization, where season ticket holders actually hold sway and the franchise's finances are audited each year. That means the results are published. In a letter to interested parties posted by Buzzing the Net's Sunaya Sapurji, Rangers COO and governor Steve Bienkowski detailed some of the franchise's financial ins and outs.
For example, while Westhead was bang-on about the $6.2 million in revenue, the Rangers also spent $6.1 million. This represented the regular season's finances and the biggest revenue generator was ticket sales, at $3.6 million. Expenses included facility rental, team travel, advertising and of course, money for players' education.
What I found the most surprising was how important the playoffs can be for a team. Kitchener bowed out in the second round to London in five games that season, giving the Rangers just five home playoff dates. But the team still earned $316,419 in the post-season – a huge windfall for a handful of games.
Out in the Western League, the Lethbridge Hurricanes ran into some serious financial trouble this past season and the fact the team missed the playoffs four straight years heading into the 2013-14 campaign could not have helped. Attendance was cited as one major factor for the franchise's money woes, but it's hard to blame fans who haven't been accustomed to seeing a winner. The Hurricanes made it five in a row this year by finishing dead-last in 'The Dub.'
Lethbridge and Kitchener are not a perfect comparison, of course. While Kitchener can draw from a population of nearly 500,000 people (including neighboring cities Waterloo and Cambridge), Lethbridge counts about 90,000 Alberta residents as their base. The nearest cities in the province are Medicine Hat and Calgary, both of which have their own WHL teams. But the Hurricanes do have to compete with Calgary's population of 1.1 million, so it's easy to see why the major junior landscape is tough to pigeonhole; the teams have wildly different fan bases to draw from.
The fact all the other CHL teams are owned by individuals or small groups in a traditional structure means that information about finances is not well-known. But getting a glimpse at what Kitchener, a team that has graduated numerous NHLers and often had great success on the ice, has been up to financially is pretty interesting.
And in the interest of fair math, the extra money Kitchener earned during the post-season was given away to community programs and charities – by the end of fiscal, the Rangers were up just $22,165.
Article corrected to note that Kitchener lost in the second round of the playoffs, not the first.