The OHL team will shift operations from Hamilton to Brantford for at least three years, with the possibility the move becomes permanent. Photo credit: Hamilton Bulldogs
The Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Hamilton Bulldogs are set to move to Brantford. Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre, the arena where the Bulldogs currently play, is undergoing major renovations starting in late 2023.
The team was tasked with finding a new home for the duration of the improvements, which are expected to last about two years, but it appears that the Bulldogs may have a long-term plan to stay in Brantford, even after the renovations are completed.
On Tuesday, January 31, 2023, the City of Brantford issued a release that the municipality and the team have signed a memorandum of understanding for the Bulldogs to play at the Brantford Civic Centre for at least three years starting September 2023. The agreement also includes the option to extend the team’s stay for three additional one-year terms.
“I am very excited about the prospect of bringing an OHL team to Brantford,” said Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis.
“A partnership with an established OHL franchise will reinforce the image of Brantford as a renowned sport-friendly city, as well as enhance the perception of the city as active, vibrant, and attractive to future investment, especially surrounding the downtown core.”
The plan received Brantford City Council approval at a special meeting on Tuesday, February 7.
The move includes the Bulldogs contributing around $7.5 million for arena upgrades for the Civic Centre in order to bring it up to OHL standards.
Those improvements include expanding the dressing rooms, washrooms, and concession areas, improving the arena lighting and sound system, and replacing the current glass boards with acrylic panels. The work will need to be completed before September 2023.
The team will also reportedly be changing their name to the “Brantford Bulldogs”, further signifying that the move might not be temporary after all.
Hamilton has already lost the Honeybadgers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) to Brampton as a result of the arena renovations. The Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League, a team which recently moved to Hamilton but refused to change its name, will also be displaced by the FirstOntario Centre renovations. It remains unclear where the team will play during the renovations.
Interestingly, this will not be the first time that an OHL team has played in Brantford. From 1978 to 1984 the Brantford Alexanders played out of the Civic Centre. It is also somewhat fitting that a hockey team will be moving back to Brantford since the city is famously the hometown of arguably hockey’s greatest of all time: Wayne Gretzky.
The City of Brantford estimates that the team’s move will inject $4 million a year into the city’s local economy.
The Civic Centre will be the smallest OHL rink in terms of fan capacity. Owen Sound, currently with the smallest arena, have a 3,500-person capacity, while the Civic Centre can fit about 3,400 people. Brantford is a larger hockey market though, with a population of just over 100,000 people, compared to Owen Sound’s 30,000 population.
To provide some context to arena capacity, the Bulldogs home opener in September 2022 in Hamilton was attended by 5,045 people. The Niagara Ice Dogs vs. Hamilton Bulldogs regular season game on Friday, February 3, 2023 in Hamilton had an attendance of 3,373.
If those numbers stay the same upon the team’s move to Brantford, it is possible that the arena could be packed full for every game.
Based in Hamilton, he reaches hundreds of thousands of people monthly on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. He has been published in The Hamilton Spectator, Stoney Creek News, and Bay Observer. He has also been a segment host with Cable 14 Hamilton. In 2017, he received the Chancellor Full Tuition Scholarship from the University of Ottawa (BA, 2022). He has also received the Governor General’s Academic Medal. He formerly worked in a non-partisan role on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.