Lockout leaves charities in the cold

Originally Published: October 18, 2004
By Scott Burnside | Special to ESPN.com

On any day of the week, during any month of the year, Rev. William Collins can be found in a strip mall storefront in Wilton Manors, Fla., trying to keep up with the needs of an ever-growing group of people living with AIDS.

He's miles -- and years -- away from his Canadian roots, which included growing up in Saskatchewan with the legendary Irvin family, whose patriarch Dick Irvin coached the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to Stanley Cups in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, and playing hockey with other sharp-tongued Franciscan seminarians in Montreal with legendary Canadiens players serving as referees and supplied by the elder Irvin.

William Collins
Rev. William Collins and his volunteers at the Poverello Center may be without $30,000 donated by the Florida Panthers last year.
Yet the game still manages to insinuate itself into Collins' life and his work, all three almost predictably interwoven.

Every week the Poverello Center, a thrift shop and food bank that takes its name from the Spanish, "the little poor one," helps feed and clothe 4,200 people living with AIDS. Almost 800 of those are under the age of 12.

"I'm getting 50 to 60 more clients a month," said Collins, 73, who moved to the Ft. Lauderdale area from Edmonton for health reasons 18 years ago and launched Poverello soon after his arrival.

Three square meals a day, snacks, cleaning supplies, Poverello does it all, or tries to.

"I came down here to retire and never worked harder in my life," he said with a laugh.

The NHL lockout may be forcing people like Collins and his volunteers to work even harder.

The Poverello Center, which has a $2 million annual budget, receives government funding to feed only 369 of its clients. The rest of the money comes from the gym across the street, which is operated by Collins' group, thrift shop sales and donations from groups like the Florida Panthers. Last year, the Panthers donated $30,000 through their annual black-tie gala, "Waiter, There's A Puck In My Soup." Several players also donated clothing and furniture to the thrift shop.

"When they're out, we're out," Collins said. "Without their help, I'm in difficulty. I know it's going to affect us terribly because they're not going to be around."

During the course of a normal National Hockey League season, injuries, winning streaks, losing streaks, coaching changes, player beefs, playoff races, all make for more interesting copy than the hundreds of donations made to local children's' hospitals, hospices, battered women's shelters or minor hockey associations.

But as the fight between millionaires over millions of dollars threatens to wipe out an entire season, organizations like the Poverello Center and people like Collins are caught in the middle.

"Lives of the Lockout" will run periodically and profile people whose lives have been impacted by the NHL's work stoppage.
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With the rare exception, an individual NHL team raises anywhere between $200,000 and $1 million annually for local charities, which often request assistance through grants establish by the teams. Together, the NHL's 30 teams raise $10-$12 million a year, a conservative estimate that doesn't include the $7 million raised by Hockey Fights Cancer, the NHL Foundation's main initiative that has contributed to cancer research in the United States and Canada since 1998.

The donations, raised through golf tournaments, gala dinners, 50-50 ticket sales and a host of other events, rely mostly on NHL games and NHL players to drive the collection of funds. Add a contentious relationship between players and owners to the fact that a majority of players aren't readily available to attend functions, the cost to charities in the United States and Canada will run to the millions of dollars if the entire NHL season is lost.

In Canada, hockey-related lottery games -- both betting and scratch-and-win tickets with hockey themes -- are sanctioned and administered by the government, and the profits are split between general revenue coffers, health care and non-profit groups. Last year's nation-wide sales totaled $174.6 million (Canadian).

In Ontario, the country's most populated province and where almost all of lottery profits go to provincial hospitals, hockey betting represents 50 percent of all sports business, about $100 million (Canadian) in gross sales annually.

In each case, the government-run lottery agencies are attempting to offset potential losses by expanding other betting options, including U.S. college football, NASCAR racing and more NFL wagering options, but the losses will be significant.

"We won't be able to offset it all, we know that," Western Canadian Lottery Corporation spokesman John Matheson said.

Some franchises have the wherewithal to maintain their donation levels, at least for this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks receive 50 cents on the dollar in matching grants from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, and expect to give about $800,000 to the community this year.

Only four months removed from their Stanley Cup championship, the Tampa Bay Lightning are utilizing their coaching staff, alumni and the Cup itself to raise money for charity. They expect to be close to, if not above, the almost $740,000 they raised last year.

Other teams will be hard-pressed to reproduce the financial assistance generated in previous years.

The Carolina Hurricanes donated more than $435,000 to charities last season. But without a strong alumni base to rely on in the absence of players, the team canceled all of its fund-raising events until the lockout is resolved. As a result, the team expects its contributions will drop by more than 75 percent this year.

The Colorado Avalanche, another team affiliated with the McCormick Tribune Foundation, have raised $11 million in their first nine years in Denver, but they too have canceled their main initiatives.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were hoping to hit the $2 million (Canadian) mark in charitable donations this season.

"We'll be lucky to get one-third of that," John Lashway, the team's vice president of communications and community development, said.

The lockout is definitely going to alter the way we look at things. It's going to be a heck of a challenge.
Ken Moore, president of Calgary's minor hockey association
The Calgary Flames generate almost $1 million (CDN) annually through their foundation, a number that will also decline precipitously if there is no hockey this season.

Among the groups that will struggle to make up for the game's absence is Calgary's minor hockey association, which last year relied on the Flames for $80,000-$100,000 (Canadian). The association's mandate is to ensure children have the opportunity to play hockey, regardless of their economic situation. Thanks to the Flames, 263 underprivileged youngsters took part in the program last year, association president Ken Moore said.

"The lockout is definitely going to alter the way we look at things," Moore said. "It's going to be a heck of a challenge."

The Detroit Red Wings still hope to contribute to some 2,500 local and state charities through direct monetary donation and funds generated from memorabilia. However, without players available, the team will not hold its two biggest fundraisers, a wine-tasting in February and a training camp golf outing, that last year combined to raise $250,000. That money benefited the fund established for the families of former player Vladimir Konstantinov and masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov, who were critically injured in a limousine accident days after the team's 1997 Stanley Cup championship.

The NHL Foundation's cancer research program will continue with online auctions and other fundraising efforts, even though its prime fund-raising event is the NHL All-Star Game. It's unclear whether the $600,000 it gathers from team fines (as opposed to player fines, which go to the players' association) and donates to Special Olympics and multiple sclerosis research will be jeopardized this season.

Even player-driven efforts will suffer during the lockout.

Since its inception in 1999, the Players' Association's grassroots "Goals and Dreams Fund" has dispersed $15 million to help support hockey in needy communities, including providing 7,500 sets of new equipment, 75 ice resurfacing machines and 100 sets of boards and glass. Although Canada's World Cup of Hockey championship team directed $500,000 to the fund, and the Americans, Czechs and Finns also contributed, the main source of revenue is the sale of NHLPA licensed products, which will decline considerably during the lockout.

"We are still going to be doing programs in Canada and the United States and in Europe, it'll just be a reduced amount because we have no revenue coming in," said Mike Gartner, a Hall of Famer and director of business relations for the association.

Volunteers at the Poverello Center begin their days before the sun rises. The center feeds and clothes people with AIDS.
The situation for charities across the NHL landscape might be much grimmer than it is in reality if it was gauged only by bottom-line accounting. Instead, virtually all teams remain active and committed to maintaining the relationships they have forged with their local charities.

"The clubs are very involved in their communities. It's a whole tradition and very deep-rooted tradition in the NHL," said Bernadette Mansur, executive director of the NHL Foundation.

Though many teams have laid off staff or cut back hours and salaries, most teams are nonetheless directing significant time and energy to often creative ways of helping those who have come to count on their help.

"We feel it's not the people who really need our help's fault there's a lockout. They still need money," said John Breslow, a part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and director of Coyotes Charities. "We're going to find other revenue streams, because the work that we do for the public that are in need is so important. It's our moral obligation."

In some cases that means donating time and energy. Members of the Nashville Predators staff are helping a local group that does home makeovers for disadvantaged families. Other teams' employees are volunteering at food banks, soup kitchens and literacy fairs. Meanwhile, coaches are teaching at clinics and minor hockey outreach programs.

"It's the nature of sports that an organization attracts a certain amount of attention and we should take advantage of that platform and give something back. It's almost immaterial whether we're playing or not," said Gerry Helper, senior vice president of communications and the president of the Predators Foundation.

In Edmonton, the Oilers will continue to operate their Ice School program, which allows children to spend a week in a classroom at the Rexall Place and Northlands Park where the Oilers play. The Atlanta Thrashers will host a four-on-four corporate hockey challenge and a friendship tournament for 9- and 10-year-olds from Georgia, Ohio, Ontario and Russia.

"The onus is on us to be very, very creative," said Panthers' foundation president and former player Randy Moller.

As a result, the Panthers are opening the doors to the Office Depot Center and allowing charities to solicit funds at concerts and other events, in hopes of raising as much or more than the $200,000 the foundation raised and distributed last year.

"They were one of the most generous organizations last year," Collins said. "That money represents literally hundreds of people I didn't have to beg from."

Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.