NHL Relocation – Part 1 (Potential Movers)

May 17, 2011, by

The media (especially outlets north of the border) often likes to lump southern cities together and boldly claim that hockey will never succeed below the Mason-Dixon Line. More often than not, they simply look at attendance figures and react. Of course this is The Hockey News lazy journalism and every market has its own problems and solutions. Not to mention the fact that the Hurricanes, Lightning, and Predators have all turned things around rather quickly at the box office.

Still, issues remain in a few markets and I rarely read any plausible solutions. Instead we’re fed sophomoric ideas like “contraction” from the kiddies over at Bleacher Report, so I figured I would give my take on what could be done to bring these teams back to prosperity.

P.S. Those of you who wish to read a hilarious piece about NHL contraction, google “what the new NHL should look like.” A Carolina Hurricanes columnist at Bleacher suggests the NHL should off 6-8 teams. The real funny part about this article is that the Hurricanes weren’t on the list, despite historically being lower in attendance figures and revenue than most of the mentioned teams.

Blogger bias perhaps? I think so!

Sorry, tangent!

The Phoenix Coyotes

Over the last several months I have been following the stories out of Glendale and Canada about the ever evolving legal issues around the Phoenix Coyotes sale to Matt Hulsizer. If you’ve been reading the articles that I have, it seems as though there is just zero chance the NHL and company can right this sinking ship. And yet for some reason beyond my comprehension, Bettman is sticking to his guns and trying to hump every cactus to keep the Yotes in Glendale.

On the flipside, if you’re Matt Hulsizer, at what point do you just say “f*** it,” and completely bail on this team?

If I were him, I would pull out and buy some other team that doesn’t have so much drama around it. Why deal with the headache of ending up in court again thus delaying the chance of ever making any coin?

What the NHL should do is just sell the Yotes to Dave Thomson (Canadian billionaire with an interest in ownership) and move them to Winnipeg or Quebec City. This way the team can actually start making some money and invest in some of their players. You can use Goldwater as a scapegoat for the Yotes demise and you get to rid yourself of a town that just has no business housing a professional sports team, thanks to disinterested fans, a bad arena location, and a hypocritical political climate. I mean it’s a no brainer at this point.

Florida Panthers

What can you say about a team that uses tarps to block off sections of their arena? Now I’m usually not one to pick on perennial losing teams with attendance problems, but that is just embarrassing. The WNBA uses tarps, not NHL teams.

The Panthers problems don’t start there. They have made some terrible trades throughout their history that have set them back years (Luongo, Bertuzzi, Bure, etc). Their drafts haven’t churned out the caliber of players they should have given their immovable position in the standings. To add insult to injury, they have also consistently priced their tickets in the top half of the league ahead of such teams like the Blackhawks, Sharks, and Redwings, to name a few.

Still, if Dale Tallon can turn the franchise around, can the Panthers be successful?

It’s hard to know. South Florida is a tough market to be consistently successful in. The Dolphins, Heat, and Marlins have all seen their season subscriber base nosedive only a few short years removed from championships or winning seasons. There is just no loyalty or patience in that town.

The other problem with the South Florida market is the demographics. The NHL has done little to no multi-cultural marketing and South Florida is as diverse as they come. It’s going to take many years and many millions of dollars to convince all of the different cultures that the Panthers are a team worth following. There is no Lebron James coming to save them, but certainly winning a few playoff rounds could help.

The Atlanta Thrashers

You’d have an easier time convincing me to wear pleated pants from Men’s Warehouse than you would convincing me that hockey can succeed in Atlanta.

No team in hockey seems to have as many bad relationships within their circles as the Atlanta Spirit, the ownership group behind the Thrashers and Hawks. The Atlanta Spirit has long tried to run their franchises in a trial by committee approach, an approach that has pretty much failed their entire existence. They’ve disagreed and subsequently killed important trade proposals, they’ve quarreled over team budgets, and they have even sued each other. This ownership group has also lost over $130 million in trying to keep the franchise afloat.

Thankfully, there are internet rumors abound that the Thrashers will be sold and moved to Winnipeg, but nothing has been confirmed at this point. Bettman has also vehemently denied these rumors all week. Either way, the Thrashers are a hot mess.

For the time being, Bettman seems to think ATL is still viable and his appetite to remain in Atlanta pretty much comes down to the fact that:

a) Atlanta is a Top 10 ranked TV market, which could provide leverage in negotiating new revenue generating TV deals.

b) They play in a newer arena with luxury boxes that has the potential to make a lot of money…if they could only fill it.

c) Philips Electronics pay the Spirit $9.25 million per season for naming rights until 2018. It’s hard to walk away from that.

Of course, I’d argue that:

a)    A Top 10 TV market doesn’t mean sh*t if you can’t get generate solid TV ratings, which the Thrashers do not.

b)    Winnipeg too has a new arena and Quebec is about to build one and both could easily attract more season subs, sponsors, and naming rights cash than Atlanta probably ever could.

c)    Perhaps the biggest thing going against Atlanta as a market is the fact that the Thrashers aren’t the only team in town with a lot of empty seats. The Braves, a perennial contender can’t sellout playoff games and neither can the Hawks nor the Falcons, who have both trotted out very competitive teams in recent seasons. It seems that if it’s not NASCAR, College Football, or the WWE. No one cares.

Whether or not this team really moves or stays put is anyone’s guess.

In my own little perfect world I’d move the Coyotes or Thrashers to Winnipeg or Quebec City, and then I’d move the Panthers to Portland or Seattle within the next 5 years if the team can’t turn it around.

I will get more into the viability of these markets, as well as some of the other markets that have been thrown around in the media in Part 2 of this series.


  1. joey says:

    The big thing about a top 10 market is you want to get as many of those people as possible interested in hockey to help the national ratings. Not just about atlantas ratings.

  2. Rick in Boston says:

    This is one of my favorite topics – kudos for the article. I’m of the opinion Florida isn’t moving, at least in the next couple of years. I think it’s more likely that Atlanta moves to Winnipeg, probably for 2012-13, and Phoenix goes to Quebec City once the arena is done (13-14?).

    I’m not sure if Seattle or Portland is viable at this time. Both would require new arenas, which neither city is exactly willing to do right now. Also, while both cities have supported major junior hockey quite well over the last 20+ years, I question if there is enough of a season ticket holder base to be successful.

    There are probably two other, better options: Kansas City has a new (4 year-old) arena without a major tenant. This would keep a team in the US, which Bettman seems to like, but also in the midwest, where the NHL has been very successful since the start of the expansion era. The other option would be the continuing drama of putting a club in Hamilton, Ontario. It will cost more because of the Maple Leafs’ territorial rights, but the season ticket subscriber base is there, along with the sponsorship dollars.

    • The Suit says:

      Hamilton committed corporate suicide when it got into bed with Jimmy Balsillie. Bettman will shun that town forever.

      But I am in aggreement that Hamilton would be a great market, if they renovated their arena. And revenue sharing would take care of the Maple Leafs and Sabres.

  3. Brian SCS says:

    For the life of me i have no idea why the NHL fights to keep the coyotes, especially when you have a market that seems like an ideal fit available – Winnipeg. Does the NHLPA have any veto power?

    • The Suit says:

      I don’t think the NHLPA would ever fight the NHL on relocation. Would create too much friction between the two sides.

  4. Dave says:

    FYI, the bit about the Thrashers was written by The Suit before the news about their eventual sale. Talk about good timing.

  5. Matt J says:

    I wish these teams would move. Even when the flames were in atl they were bad. Attendance isn’t there. Quebec winnipeg should be definites. What about Milwaukee? Everyone plays hockey in Wisconsin. They love it there.

    • The Suit says:

      Problem with Milwaukee is the Bradley Center would need to be torn down and a new arena would have to be built.

      With all the budget problems going on in Wisconsin, I doubt their gov’t would be willing to fork over the cash if they’re not even willing to pay their teachers.

      And then there’s the whole market size, corporate support issues that the Bucks and Brewers have. Be a tough call.

    • Dave says:

      Wisconsin is probably the only US location that would welcome a team. But as Suit said, they have budgeting issues and they need a new arena.

      I would be interested to see how any professional team would do in Vegas though.

      • The Suit says:

        yea, my vote would be for the NBA in Vegas…that would just be endlessly entertaining

  6. the duke says:

    Nobody’s mentioned Houston an old WHA city they were succesful when Gordie Howe and his sons played there