Pori Aces On Thin Financial Ice As Debts Revealed

West coast club has debts of more than €450,000 - but says they've already made a start to cut costs and restructure their business.

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File picture of Pori Aces logo on playing jersey / Credit: @porinassat Instagram

Finnish pro-hockey team Pori Aces are facing numerous financial problems, with decreasing revenues and money challenges for the upcoming season.

The west coast team, which won the Finnish Championship as recently as 2013, say they’re more than €400,000 in the red.

Their parent company HC Ässät Pori Oy made a loss of €451,263 last year.

Managing Director Mikael Lehtinen says that while spectator numbers are good, one area they need to look at is concession sales – how much food and drinks they can get spectators to buy before the games begin, and between periods.

“We need to calculate better how many people are at the sales point, what are their numbers, and of course we have to maybe make a little bit shorter list of what we sell, and make it easier and quicker” Lehtinen tells News Now Finland.

But selling more sausages won’t fix the debt. Lehtinen says something in the club’s favour is that the brand has strong local connections.

“We have quite a good brand, it’s quite big in the Pori area and also in Finland. And that’s good for us. We don’t have to explain what is the Aces brand” he says.

As the start of hockey season approaches, Aces have frozen their player budget at the same level as last year, and started to make other cost savings to improve the company’s net sales, which were approximately €6.25 million last year.

Hockey Club Challenges

It’s no easy business trying to run a professional hockey club in Finland.

Earlier this  year, Espoo United went bankrupt. Just two years before, the club’s previous incarnation also went bust.

The latest bankruptcy came as no surprise to management, players or fans after months of uncertainty and unpaid player salaries which were well documented in the Finnish media.

Experts agree that a combination of bad management decisions, poor local support, and the lure of bigger, more successful teams in Helsinki were all factors in Espoo’s demise.

Other cities prove that it is possible to run successful pro-hockey franchises, even in some relatively remote locations.

A study last year carried out by researchers at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences JAMK showed that several smaller clubs at the top level of Finnish ice hockey’s Liiga can be a cash cow for their cities.

In 2015 researchers found that Jyväskylä’s Liiga club JYP brought in €6m. While in  Hämeenlinna, HPK brought in some €5m during the same year.

Vaasa’s Good Business Example

Vaasa Sport brings in around €4m to the city of Vaasa each year – no mean feat for the 15th largest city in Finland, with a population of only 67,000 people.

So what generates the money? It’s everything from salaries to taxes; hot dog sales and hotel nights.

“It’s based on cash flow and spending” Tomas Kurtén, Vaasa Sport’s Managing Director told News Now Finland last year.

“One source of cash flow is obviously the salaries. We pay around 50 persons including players and their net salary is one portion of the impact, because when you get a salary, you spend at least some part of the money locally. And that is roughly €1.6m” he said.

With the salaries come taxes that are paid to Vaasa city, and the club pays around €700,000 to the city when it uses the arena for Liiga games, or other sports venues in the area for training.

Vaasa Sport also buys roughly €1.7m worth of services and products from local partners – this could be bus hire to travel to games, or the cost of cleaning the kit or buying equipment in local shops for example.

Then there’s value added tax and insurance payments, plus the club’s normal business tax bill which goes to the state – approximately €2m per year – and while that doesn’t impact the Vaasa region directly, it highlights the sort of money stream associated with a club of this size.