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Breaking down the Mississauga Steelheads' pending move to Brampton


On Jan. 31, the Mississauga Steelheads announced their intention to move the team to Brampton, pending approval from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

While there was a sense the team could move soon, it was a baffling announcement for many Steelheads or OHL fans. Twitter lit up, while pundits shared their thoughts and local reporters filed stories. 

Though the move will only involve a short move up the street from Paramount Fine Foods Centre (PFFC) to Brampton’s CAA Centre, there are a variety of consequences and feelings to come from it. As such, I wanted to break the move down based on various perspectives and thought processes. 

Let’s start with the basics. Why move?

Moving was all but inevitable

The Steelheads have reportedly been losing money and staff for several years. Attendance has been a problem in Mississauga at least since the pandemic, while the arena itself came with an expensive lease. They were paying a lot for it, and likely getting little revenue back. 

The pandemic certainly did not help things.

“We were trending upwards, and then we got hit with COVID,” Steelheads president and owner Elliott Kerr told Intermission Sports. “We've had a challenging time fighting back from that.”

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the city of Mississauga told Intermission Sports in an email they made the decision not to renew the arena deal with the team. 

“While the City supports hockey at all levels, we have a responsibility to residents and taxpayers to ensure our facilities are being optimized,” a representative for the city wrote.

The decision came a year after the city and team signed just a one-year extension on a previous arena deal. It was becoming clear though there is still some belief in hockey’s viability in the area, the city itself is ready to move into other segments of the entertainment industry. 

Minor hockey is popular in Mississauga, as the Mississauga Hockey League (MHL) and the Streetsville Hockey League (SHL) offer house league hockey and there are eight Mississauga teams within the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), which is home to higher levels of rep hockey. 

However, for fans, junior hockey is outmatched by other sports teams in the area, especially in Toronto. The Toronto Maple Leafs are at a different price point than the Steelheads, but they are the hockey team people in the GTA focus on. The Toronto Raptors, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, Toronto FC and more dominate the sporting market in the area as well. 

The Raptors 905, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Raptors, play at PFFC as well, adding direct competition at the professional level.

A photo of the front entrance of Paramount Fine Foods Centre
Paramount Fine Foods Centre is the current home of the Mississauga Steelheads and the Raptors 905. It will also be the temporary home of the Toronto Rock later this year. (Mitchell Fox/INTERMISSION SPORTS)

“At this point in time, we have to share the pie,” Kerr said, adding no other OHL team has that kind of competition in their building. “That was an enormous challenge and has been since Raptors 905 arrived. We're competing for the same family and entertainment dollar in our marketplace.”

On top of that, PFFC was not the ideal hockey arena in today’s world. Many organizations, in hockey as well as other sports, are turning towards a model where the arena is part of a larger entertainment complex. There need to be other attractions around the arena and it needs to be accessible. PFFC had neither.

“It’s the Canadian Tire Centre of the OHL,” season ticket holder Alex Fordedal told Intermission Sports, pointing to the Ottawa Senators’ arena, which is notoriously far away from downtown Ottawa.

While getting a better arena deal to cut overhead costs is the likely number one motivator, the fact of the matter is there were a lot of factors pushing the Steelheads out of PFFC and Mississauga. The real question was where they would go next.  

Why Brampton? 

Kerr told Intermission Sports the team looked at and spoke to representatives from seven or eight other communities when searching for a place to move the team, including in various parts of Ontario and the northern United States. 

He said the arenas in other cities did not have the facilities or amenities they wanted, are used to in Mississauga or are going to get in Brampton.

“The reality is we have a really nice arena where we are, and where we're going is a really nice arena,” Kerr said. “We didn't want to take a step backwards in that regard.”

CAA Centre, in contrast to PFFC, has a restaurant within the facility, which Kerr says will be “jam-packed” before and after games. He also said commercial space has been proposed near the arena. 

Kerr said having more entertainment around the rink is “a big deal.”

“That's a reason to go. It's an evening out, not just a hockey game,” he said.

The sign in front of CAA Centre with the arena behind it.
CAA Centre is about seven kilometres up Kennedy Rd. from Paramount Fine Food Centre, near the Brampton-Mississauga border. (Mitchell Fox/INTERMISSION SPORTS)

Fordedal knows the CAA Centre from watching games there in the past. He says though he likes that it has more around it than PFFC, he does not speak highly of it like Kerr or the team. He thinks it could be a “much worse” arena.

“The only pro is its accessibility for people to get there,” Fordedal said. “Besides that, I think they're regressing heavily when it comes to facilities.”

Ultimately, the biggest factor in choosing Brampton was the ownership group not wanting to move the team far. The short relocation means the team’s hockey operations and management staff can stick around, billets should not have to change and corporate sponsors and other partners will be kept. The players, most of whom are in high school, should not have to move schools. 

Kerr said the move should not require uprooting anyone and is more about building on what the franchise already has in the region.

“The Steelheads family atmosphere is being retained. We're just opening it up and growing it,” he said.

However, this does not mean everyone involved will be able to shrug off the move. It could impact staff at Paramount Fine Foods Centre, for example, and some season ticket holders and fans may not want to stick with the team.

Fordedal, who used to report on the Steelheads, said learning of the move provoked a negative reaction for him. Given its history with hockey teams, he is not sure Brampton is a hockey city.

“I guess one can say that Mississauga isn't a hockey city with how the attendance has been, but I do think it's a much better market,” he said.

“Three Miles North”

The one thing Kerr has reiterated on several occasions is the move to Brampton is a small one, in distance and in what it means for the team’s community and identity.

“All we're doing is moving three miles north,” he said. 

The two arenas are about seven kilometres, or a nine-minute drive, apart, according to Google Maps. While the team’s name and logo will be changing to the Brampton Steelheads to acknowledge Brampton as the team’s host, the idea for Kerr and the organization is to be the one team for the entire Region of Peel and areas surrounding it.

The Steelheads have partnered with many organizations, including minor hockey teams and schools, from Brampton, Caledon, Oakville and other towns around Mississauga over the last few years. They hope to continue to build their brand as a team for the entire region, rather than just for the city their arena is located in.

Fordedal said his family will likely not continue as season ticket holders, though they will continue to follow the team.

“We will definitely be keeping an eye on them because of our attachment to the players,” he said.

Jordan Davidson, a season ticket holder and host of the Behind the Bench vlog on the Steelheads, told Intermission Sports the move is just about going to a new place for him, though he hopes he can get a good seat again.

Kerr said the team recognizes they have some convincing to do, including emphasizing to people it is a short move, rather than one to a city like Cornwall, Ont., where many speculate an OHL team could head soon. He said retaining their fans and partners is “very important” to the Steelheads, so they will soon be announcing initiatives to recognize season ticket holders, corporate partners, media partners and more. 

The Steelheads owner said the team is appreciative of what the city of Mississauga has given them for the last 12 years. Former mayor Hazel McCallion, who Kerr called his friend, was an avid supporter of hockey and was a regular face at hockey games around the city.

Hazel McCallion drops a puck at center ice for a Steelheads player and a player from the Sudbury Wolves at Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion drops the ceremonial puck at a Mississauga Steelheads game on Oct. 2, 2022. (Mitchell Fox/INTERMISSION SPORTS)

“The reality is if it wasn't for Hazel, we wouldn't exist today,” Kerr said. “The support of the city over those years has allowed us to build the base that we currently have.”

Kerr added the organization will “do a lot” to make sure their history in Mississauga is never lost.

“I'm optimistic that everyone will continue to embrace us and look at our team as their team,” he added. “We're always going to be Mississauga’s team. But we can also be Brampton’s team, can’t we?”

That is a question still to be answered in many ways, namely in whether attendance improves.

The OHL in the GTA: Can it work?

There is a lot of concern the Greater Toronto Area is not meant to be a home for junior hockey. Several teams have moved away from the area over the last two decades and even the Brantford Bulldogs’ move from Hamilton points to the fandom and community of smaller communities. If new teams are to be added to the OHL, the feeling is they will go to smaller towns like Cornwall, Belleville or a few in the northern United States. 

The junior hockey model is to develop a tight-knit fanbase in towns that may not have a lot of other attractions. While there is some debate over the best ownership models, Mississauga and Brampton are not considered ideal OHL destinations.

Kitchener Rangers broadcaster and OHL reporter Mike Farwell, who was one of the first to report the possibility of Mississauga’s move to Brampton on his podcast over a month ago, has been a major voice on this.

Hockey teams in Mississauga and Brampton have struggled. Brampton has lost two teams in the last ten years, with the Brampton Battalion moving to North Bay in 2013 for a better arena deal and the East Coast Hockey League’s (ECHL) Brampton Beast folding in 2021 due to financial struggles through the pandemic.

For many, this is a sign the Steelheads will not work in Brampton, or at least no more than they have in Mississauga. The short move also means the team is essentially in the same market where things have not worked out.

As former OHL broadcaster and one-time Mississauga St. Michael's Majors vice president Roger Lajoie said on the Steelheads Weekly Podcast, an OHL team can likely survive in Brampton, but if it can thrive is another question.

To Kerr, there is opportunity in how different the landscape is now. The Battalion joined the OHL at the same time as the Mississauga IceDogs and there have been at least two teams within close distance of each other between the two cities for most of the last two decades.

“Not having another hockey team engaging in the same marketplace [...] it's different,” Kerr said.

Along with the difference in the marketplace comes changes in the community itself. Brampton is a growing city showing a growing interest in hockey. The city has hosted Hockey Day in Brampton for the last two years and was the host of the 2023 Women’s World Hockey Championships, which saw numerous sell-outs. 

Brampton mayor Patrick Brown has been vocal in his support of the move, while Kerr was positive about the city’s warm welcome of the team.

“The way we've been embraced by the city of Brampton and their staff has been unbelievable,” Kerr said. “We leave meeting with smiles on our faces for the support we're receiving and the interest and excitement from them.”

Have the Steelheads done enough in Mississauga?

Season ticket holders were first to receive the official announcement of the move on Jan. 30, the day before the wider official announcement was released.

Nevertheless, Fordedal said he was not thrilled he first heard about the move through insider reports in the weeks before that statement. The announcement was also made just as the Steelheads headed off on a road trip.

“I do wish there was more transparency about the move,” he said.

Fordedal said he feels detached from the team at the moment. 

“I can only imagine how deflating the process will be watching every game knowing that this is just one fewer game that we will be able to see them play as a Mississauga-labelled team,” he said. 

Fordedal remembers watching Mississauga teams play against the Battalion and says he was a fan of the rivalry, so seeing the Steelheads move there doesn’t feel right. He acknowledged the move probably had to be made given the team’s issues with attendance but thinks more could have been done to keep the team around.

“It doesn't make sense, the move, knowing the potential of the market [Mississauga] and how they haven't really done anything to tap into it,” he said. “It shouldn't be the hardest thing in the world to get at least 2,500 to 3,000 people at least once a week to a game.”

He finds it surprising the Maple Leafs being the team in everybody’s mind is such a crutch to other hockey teams.

“My thinking has always been 'Hey, if you love hockey that much, why don't you support another team that plays in Maple Leaf colours,’” Fordedal said, emphasizing the appeal of the OHL as showcasing the “stars of tomorrow.” 

Hockey, he admits, is not ingrained in Mississauga the same way it is in other OHL markets, where going to a game is a regular plan for a Friday night or Sunday afternoon. Still, there must be some market to tap into in a city of about 800,000 people.

“I refuse to believe that with the population, you can't do anything to at least try,” he said. “[The Steelheads] could say that they have tried in different ways, sure, but it definitely wasn't enough.”

No matter his qualms, Fordedal and season ticket holders like him inevitably have an attachment to the team and everyone around it. They want to see it succeed.

“If it all works out, if they find some sustainability, I will not complain,” he said. “I will be happy because I'm very much dedicated as a fan.”

Steelheads’ on-ice direction should help the move

One thing that can be said definitively about the Steelheads is their product on the ice is on the rise. With several draft-eligible players this year and next, including top prospects like Luke Misa, Ryerson Leenders and Porter Martone, there is a lot for fans, wherever they are based, to look forward to.  

For the organization, that trajectory could help the move.

Kerr said the one thing he has learned over his time in the sporting business is that “nothing beats winning.” He emphasized the Steelheads’ best years came after making it to the OHL finals in 2017, after which their corporate sponsorships and season ticket numbers shot up.

“It wasn't by design, but the way it's set up, our team is going to help the transition,” Kerr said of the move lining up with the team’s direction. “Everybody loves a winner.”

Kerr said people in the whole region should “get ready” to be proud of the team James Richmond is assembling.

“This team is destined for greatness,” he said. “It's now time to not look back at what was but to look forward to what is coming. And what is coming is outstanding.”

Like Kerr, Fordedal believes in the group of young players the Steelheads have, namely Martone, Jack Van Volsen and the two young goaltenders, Leenders and Jack Ivankovic. 

“I'm dedicated and very connected to this specific group,” he said. “Obviously if the on-ice and off-ice success is good, then it's for the better.”

On the other hand, moving a building contender could be a crutch to the progress the team is making. The team’s new location, and especially the vulnerability reflected in having to move, are not likely to mean a lot to current or future players but could be a factor in how the team functions day-to-day, not to mention striking the wrong chord with fans. 

To make the Brampton project work, the Steelheads need to show people they are committed to the franchise, the area and good hockey and that they should not be destined to move before Brampton gets the chance to love them. They appear to have at least one of those areas covered with their roster and direction, so perhaps the others will follow.


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