BY: MITCHELL FOX
As the Mississauga Steelheads prepare to move to Brampton for the 2024-25 season, team president and owner Elliott Kerr is optimistic the team is doing the right thing by staying close.
The possibility of the move was originally shared by Mike Farwell on The OHL Podcast on Jan. 16 but was reported more widely on Jan. 30 by Darren Dreger. The team sent an announcement to season ticket holders that day, followed by an official release the next day.
The move still has to be approved by the league, pending details being sorted out.
Kerr told Intermission Sports the short relocation is “not an onerous change for our current season ticket holders, our fan base, our media partners [and] our family of corporate partners.”
“All we're doing is moving three miles north,” he said. “We're always going to be Mississauga’s team. But we can also be Brampton’s team.”
The distance between Paramount Fine Foods Centre, where the Steelheads currently play, and CAA Centre in Brampton is about seven kilometres or a nine-minute drive, according to Google Maps.
The Steelheads looked at a variety of cities in their search for a new home but settled on Brampton as a way for everyone involved in the team to stay close to home while seeking to increase attendance.
Kerr said the team looked at cities in other parts of Ontario as well as the Northern United States and spoke to mayors or government officials in seven or eight communities. Ultimately, there were a lot of reasons for Brampton to be the destination of choice, including the team could keep many aspects of its identity and family intact.
The team's current arena, Paramount Fine Foods Centre, is a multi-use facility with 5,000 seats. It is owned and operated by the city.
In an email on Friday afternoon, the city of Mississauga told Intermission Sports they “made the decision not to renew the agreement” with the Steelheads to remain in the arena and have been involved in working on a transition plan for 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 continued in the email.
“The City is committed to ensuring events and activities at [Paramount Fine Foods Centre] represent what our community is looking for," they added, mentioning the success of sold-out concerts and "large-scale events."
Paramount Fine Foods Centre is also home to Raptors 905, the NBA G League affiliate of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. Kerr said the Raptors 905 and Steelheads both cater to the same family entertainment market and demographic, which means the Steelheads have competition not just with professional sports in the GTA, but with a team in their facility.
“The pie is only so big,” Kerr said. “There's no [other] team in the OHL that has that.”
The facility is also set to become a temporary home for the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) Toronto Rock while their home court at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton is under renovation.
“We are excited to continue to host the Raptors 905 home games and welcome the Toronto Rock for a period of time while their home facility is under renovation,” the city said.
Kerr said the city of Mississauga has been “wonderful” to the Steelheads and the history the team has there will not go anywhere with the seven-kilometre move.
“I can't begin to tell you how appreciative we are for what Mississauga gave us over these past 12 years,” he said.
The city said they remain committed to minor hockey in Mississauga and they wish the Steelheads the best in attracting “a larger audience and the attention they deserve” in Brampton.
The Steelheads currently sit last in the OHL with an average attendance of 2,252 per game, less than half the arena’s capacity, according to HockeyDB.com. The team has also reportedly lost money, attendance and even staff in the last few years.
Kerr said the move, which keeps the Steelheads in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), allows the team to capitalize in Brampton, remain part of the Mississauga community and service surrounding areas like Oakville, Milton and Caledon.
“I think staying allows us to keep our brand awareness and build on top of it,” he said.
Kerr said he and others involved, including new owner Kevin Borg, did not want to move the team hours away from where they live, in Mississauga. He added the short move up the road should mean the team’s billets, season ticket holders and staff can remain involved, while the players should not have to move schools.
“The Steelheads family atmosphere is being retained,” Kerr said. “We're just opening it up and growing it.”
Steelheads road radio voice Mike Karafilidis said on Twitter/X the broadcast team will stick around next year and beyond.
As for any other team details, Kerr said the only change will be renaming to the Brampton Steelheads and adding Brampton to the logo. This has been reflected in trademarks originally reported by Abbotsford News reporter Ben Lypka.
Kerr cited the 2023 IIHF Women's World Championship, which saw numerous sellouts at CAA Centre in April, as a reason to be optimistic about the move to Brampton.
Brampton was also the home city of two other hockey teams in recent years. The Brampton Battalion moved to North Bay before the 2013-14 OHL season, due in part to an arena deal with the city of North Bay. More recently, the ECHL’s Brampton Beast folded in 2021, citing the pandemic as the main reason.
Kerr said the difference this time around is there is no competition for the Steelheads in the area. The Battalion played in the same league and area as the Mississauga IceDogs/St. Michaels’s Majors/Steelheads, while the Beast also played in the same region. Now, the Steelheads are the only such hockey team in the GTA outside of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kerr said the team hopes to create new hockey fans and market to the diverse markets in the region, which he believes have changed in the last 10-15 years.
Part of the Steelheads’ goal is to appeal to people with a facility with more than just a rink in and around it.
A difference between Paramount Fine Foods Centre and the facility in Brampton, CAA Centre, is the latter has a restaurant inside the facility, as well as other businesses around. Kerr said the restaurant will be “jam-packed” and he understands other commercial activity may be in the works.
“It's an evening out, not just a hockey game,” he said.
Kerr said other markets the team visited did not have as strong a facility or amenities as what they are used to and want, but CAA Centre, which also has 5,000 seats, has good facilities just as Paramount Fine Foods Centre does.
“We didn't want to take a step backwards in that regard,” he said.
Kerr said it could never “hurt having a mayor who is passionate about hockey,” pointing to the city’s Hockey Day in Brampton events the last two years. He also said the team received inquiries from families in Brampton about becoming billets.
“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.”