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NHL Relocation – Part 2 (Potential Destinations)

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).

Quebec City

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.

Pacific Northwest

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.

Winnipeg

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.

 

19 Responses to “NHL Relocation – Part 2 (Potential Destinations)”

  1. Rick in Boston says:

    One minor nitpick in an otherwise very good article: the Pacific Northwest MLS rivalry is actually older than you think. The three teams have been playing D2 (or whatever it’s call) for years against each other.

  2. The Suit says:

    Fair point. I think there is also just a natural rivalry between these cities, which is another reason why the NHL should toy with the idea of moving there one day.

  3. Brian SCS says:

    Suit, Seattle/Portland looks like a ripe spot to me as well, but why then are there no AHL teams in either city? No Arena? Do the Portland Winterhawks draw well? I would think we’d have to look at how existing teams in those markets are drawing.

    • Dave says:

      Their attendance numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great either. They drew very well in the 90s (8000 per game), but that declined because of a number of reasons (mostly the economy). They average about 4000-6000 fans now, which is pretty good for the WHL in the US.

      • The Suit says:

        Those numbers impress me. That far exceeds anything in Hartford, which claims to want the NHL back, but doesn’t do anything to deserve it.

        Remember people are paying to watch 16 year olds up in Seattle/Portland, not would be NHLers.

  4. Mikeyyyy says:

    Failure of NHL franchises in the south stem from one reason.

    The inability to “bring” hockey here. Being from the south I have a different view.

    You can bring hockey to the south in terms of a team but the NHL and the franchises themselves missed out in the fact that they didn’t build rinks and roller hockey o the greater populace.

    You can’t get into a sport that you can’t ever really play. In the hurricanes case we have a few rinks but loads of relocated Yankees.

    Atlanta with a program of bringing hockey to the masses would have worked great. But again it’s a expensive sport and how many hometown heroes are there that grew up in the south and are now playing in the NHL.

    If you want it to be successful you will need to hit an area that has hockey in it already or get the best players to play there a la LA.

    • Dave says:

      To add on to that, it’s not until recently that we’ve seen kids starting to come out of LA (Etem is the first big time player). That’s simply because there’s a generational gap, young kids watch the greats, but it takes 15 years for them to reach the NHL.

      • The Suit says:

        Yeah Nashville started to figure that out a few years ago and they have spent a lot of money supporting youth hockey in the greater Nashville area and we are finally seeing the fruits of their labor now…all these years later.

        Great point Mikeyyyy

  5. Matt J says:

    I actually talked to Bettman today him being a member at the country club I caddy at occasionally (While i’m trying to graduate college of course). He was talking about how he doesn’t want these teams to move because he feels that we can’t just throw up our hands and give up on these markets. But I said there are plenty of people in Canada that want these teams back and would instantly support them. He said your right but I don’t want to start this vicious cycle if a team’s failing just move it. I think he’s definitely wrong here as usual. I couldn’t keep debating him as I wanted to get a decent tip haha.

    • The Suit says:

      The funny thing is, Bettman is doing exactly what the media is doing…trying to solve different problems with one answer. The media says, the attendance is bad so move them. Bettman’s response is, we can’t move every franchise with problems, that’s giving up!

      The right answer should be, some troubled teams should move (ATL, FLA, PHX) and some shouldn’t (CLB, NYI, DAL). Every team has a different set of problems, therefore the solution is different in each situation. Still, he’ll cave on a team or two in the next 5 years.

      • Dave says:

        Well said. Each team has unique issues, and needs to be dealt with in a different way.

  6. Dave Simon says:

    Portland isn’t lacking an arena – the Rose Garden was built with NHL specifications in mind.

    The Winterhawks have set several WHL attendance records and in the recent series against Kootenay they had nearly 8000 on Friday and almost 11,000 on Saturday. Not bad for back-to-back games.

    A Portland team would also be an instant rival for Vancouver and San Jose to a lesser extent. And it would pull fans regionally from Idaho and Montana where Hockey is popular but we don’t have enough population to have big-time hockey.

    • The Suit says:

      Even better

    • Dave says:

      Considering how much Bettman wants hockey to succeed in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised to see ATL go to Manitoba this year, and then see PHX go to Portland in a few years. Also may see FLA go to Quebec City if that new arena gets built.

      • The Suit says:

        All Portland needs is an interested owner. Wanna pony up?

      • Dave Simon says:

        I think that the Coyotes moving to Portland would be a nice move from a realignment standpoint – put them in a division with Vancouver, Edmonton & Calgary and put Colorado in with the California teams and travel is reduced quite a bit.

        As far as ownership, the owner of the Portland Winterhawks was looking into buying the Stars at one point, or so I heard. He was on record as saying he intended to keep them in Dallas, but there’s potential for ownership there.

        Add that to the corporate interests locally – Nike, Adidas, etc., and a Portland team would really make sense.

  7. Section 121 says:

    Nice double article.

    How about Charleston? Chiefs, anyone?