NHL Relocation – Part 2 (Potential Destinations)May 17, 2011, by
In part 1 of NHL Relocation (The Candidates), we looked at some of the issues surrounding the Coyotes, Thrashers, and Panthers in their respective markets. In Part 2 of this post, we’ll break down the viability of the potential markets the NHL might relocate to, including Winnipeg, Quebec, and the Pacific Northwest (Seattle or Portland).
There are two reasons why Winnipeg is being considered over Quebec City at this point. The first reason is because there aren’t any owners pledging an oath to Quebec City yet and the second reason is because there’s no arena.
Although the government has supported the idea of building a new state-of-the-art arena to the tune of $400 million, nothing has broken ground yet. The construction is set to begin over the next two years and is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2015. In other words, just in time for Matt Hullsizer to realize all hope is lost in Glendale.
Never the less, should the arena get completed on time, the NHL would be wise to at least consider a Quebec City return. I mean how could you not when 70,000 people are showing up at rallies to show support of a possible Nordiques’ return?
Does an organized rally mean people are going to drop thousands of dollars on season tickets? Of course not, but there is enough corporate support to carry the load. At the end of the day luxury boxes, TV rights, and sponsorships bring in far more revenue than fans do.
To be clear, I have read little about this region demanding an NHL hockey team. However, I have also read next to nothing about the good people of Kansas City and Las Vegas wanting a NHL team and yet those governments have had the ear of Gary Bettman. If NHL suits are going to amuse themselves with the idea of bringing a team to those towns one day, I humbly offer a better solution – the Pacific Northwest.
I bring up this area of the country not because of the glaring hole on the USA hockey map, but because of the strong interest in the sport. In fact, according to USA Hockey, the number of registered hockey players in this region exceeds that of New England, hockey’s crown jewel of USA born hockey players (other than Minnesota).
If that’s not enough proof, how about a metric even fellow suits would appreciate. The TV ratings for the USA/Canada Olympic Gold medal game in Seattle beat the TV ratings in both the New York and DC markets. That’s impressive.
Okay all nerdy stats aside, the main issue with bringing an NHL team to the Pacific Northwest is the lack of a new arena. And there is no chance the NHL will move an NHL team to a city that doesn’t have an arena with multiple revenue streams. Still, this area of the country is ripe for the picking. There is an appetite for sports in this region and it is currently being underserved thanks to the flight of the Super Sonics, the plight of the Mariners, and…I can’t think of anything else that rhymes with plight, but the Trail Blazers don’t have a stranglehold on the Portland market.
The MLS tapped into this hunger and it is currently paying dividends. The Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps arguably have the greatest rivalry in American soccer…and it’s only a few months old. If the NHL is smart, the next billionaire that comes calling asking about a team in Kansas or Vegas should be shown a map of the Northwest – with dollar signs stamped all over it.
If you have been reading my material long enough, you would know that the biggest problems with teams that are losing money is not their win loss record or their geography, but rather the building they play in and/or their lease agreement (hello Blue Jackets?).
Winnipeg won’t have that issue. The city has the brand spanking new MTS Centre, which ranks among the top 20 busiest arenas in the world and is ideally situated in downtown Winnipeg.
The MTS Centre presently would be the smallest arena in the NHL capacity-wise (about 15K), but even the NHL has said that improvements can easily be made to expand seating. What’s important though is that the arena has revenue sources (i.e. luxury boxes) and is in a prime location downtown.
But Suit, couldn’t the NHL run into the same problems they had with the Jets?
Nothing is certain. If the team loses for 10 straight seasons they could obviously run into some attendance problems, but fan support wasn’t the issue last time around. The Jets average attendance was on par with the league average back then. The real problems they encountered were the lack of an ownership group, lack of corporate support and the pre cap-era was burying small market teams. None of those problems exist today.
Should the Thrashers rumor be true, I have no doubt that a NHL team in Winnipeg would succeed. However, this isn’t going to happen overnight. I don’t think a 15,000 seat arena can turn enough of a profit to outweigh the cost of operating an NHL team. Renovations have to be made.
Additionally, True North Entertainment, the potential buyers of the Thrashers will need to be completely vetted by the NHL, as will their potential lease agreement, not to mention the negotiation of any relocation submissions. This stuff takes time.