Follow Up: NHL Awards Expansion Team To Seattle

The National Hockey League (NHL) approved the expansion of the league to Seattle on Tuesday, ending months of speculation over the future of the 32nd franchise in the world’s premier hockey circuit.

The decision comes as no surprise, the Seattle bid had an aura of eventuality to it because of their record setting season ticket commitment drive. The city showed their commitment and determination for a major professional hockey team, and it was rewarded yesterday.

The Seattle bid had all the elements needed to succeed: a stable and committed ownership group, favorable market demographics, robust corporate sponsorship potential, large media presence, and a dynamic, ambitious arena plan. The team name has not been decided yet, those details in the marketing of the franchise will be forthcoming. That is a crucial decision that must be carefully weighed.

What is known from the announcement yesterday is that the team and the NHL pushed the inaugural season start date a year to the 2021-22 hockey season. This will provide some much-needed extra time for the arena renovation project to be not rushed to completion as well as allow for the proper marketing and branding of the team in the community.

The Seattle team will play in the Pacific Division, which makes geographic sense and to balance the divisions out, the Arizona Coyotes will move from the Pacific to the Central Division for the 2021-22 season. This part of the announcement has gained significant attention and it is in this portion of the news from the NHL meetings in Georgia that could get interesting.

The realignment of the league to put the Coyotes into the Central either could be just a sensible logistical decision, or the harbinger of things to come for that franchise. The league office was quick to their defense of moving the Coyotes, citing that because most of Arizona (besides the Navajo nation tribal lands) does not recognize Daylight Savings Time – the team spends most of the time of the hockey season in the Mountain Time Zone.

However, the current teams in the Central Division such as Minnesota, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis all play in the Central time zone. This will translate into earlier starting times for games on the road for the Coyotes as well as longer travel times for the team and a shift away from their geographic rivals in Las Vegas and Los Angeles respectively.

This shift in divisional alignment has caused rampant speculation about the Coyotes being relocated to another Central time zone city that is angling for an NHL team, Houston, with a billionaire who controls the world class arena in the nation’s fourth largest city.

The move to Houston may be a bit premature even though in my earlier coverage on the failed attempts that the Arizona Coyotes have made to gain an arena in a better location in the Phoenix metro area. The Coyotes ownership has an agreement with the arena management company that allows them to go to a year-to-year lease on their current home, Gila River Arena, for five years until they determine a plan for a future facility.

The Coyotes have no plan or site on the board currently, which only fuels the fire that the team will relocate to Houston. The Houston bid for expansion definitely took a setback because after Seattle enters as the 32nd team, and finally balances out the league from a geographic and conference balance perspective, the league would not expand and add just one team.

The NHL has been clear of their interest in Houston especially to grow TV ratings and reach a more diversified demographic. The owner of the arena in Houston, Tillman Fertitta, also owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets and has been vocal about his desire to bring the NHL to the city. He met with NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, earlier this year to discuss very generally, the vision for hockey in Houston.

Some feel that the league does not want to lose the Phoenix market and that the Coyotes will find a way to stay in the desert, where they do have a loyal fan base. The speculation about a move to Houston will continue until the Coyotes find a long-term home for an arena in the East Valley or downtown.

It should also be noted that the Calgary Flames have an issue with plans for a new arena there now looking very dismal. The ownership there has threatened to relocate the team or sell the team to a party in another city. The door for Houston remains open in that relocation scenario as well.

The option to expand to Houston would require the league to expand by two franchises to 34 teams total. The logical other bid would be from Quebec, which has a new arena built and ready, but the expansion fee would be enormous in Canadian dollar figures. The Quebecor group would have to be willing to shell out a huge front-end cost to make that work.

In my view, I do not see the NHL ownership being willing to cut the revenue pie into 34 slices. I think the addition of Seattle is a home run for the league and makes some much sense from so many perspectives to add that city to the hockey landscape.

In addition, I am in the minority of people I have talked to in recent days on this subject that thinks that Houston would be an excellent destination for hockey as well. The city is much more diverse than many Americans realize and they have passionate sports fans and many transplanted people from around the entire country that now call Houston home that would fuel the appetite for the game.

It remains to be seen what happens with the Coyotes, the Houston bid for a hockey team, and if Quebec will finally get a seat back at the league table. However, what we do know is that Seattle will be joining the league to play in a state-of-the-art renovated Key Arena in the center of that great American city. The league took a bold step forward with Seattle and hockey in North America will be the beneficiary of those efforts.

(some background courtesy of ESPN, NBC Sports)

Follow Up: NHL Expansion To Seattle Takes Crucial Step

In a follow up to earlier posts on this topic, the bid by Seattle to become the 32nd franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL) took a crucial step forward on Tuesday.

The Seattle ownership group partners and Mayor Durkan met with a nine-member committee of NHL governors (owners) and other top league executives in New York to make a presentation essentially framing why the NHL should expand into the Seattle market.

The news comes as no real surprise because the Seattle group set records for season ticket commitments and blew away the number that Las Vegas did a couple of years ago in their respective season ticket drive. The region in the Pacific Northwest is untapped in the U.S. by the NHL, and the prospective Seattle team would have a built-in rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks about a two hour drive away to the north.

The committee yesterday voted 9-0 in favor of the Seattle bid moving forward in the expansion process. The financing of the team and the arena renovations to Key Arena at Seattle Center (which was the center of my last article on this topic) were not seen as a deterring factor.

The next step is for the NHL to vote on the formal expansion to Seattle in early December at the league meetings in Georgia. The expansion fee is expected to be (and widely reported) around $650 million. It should also be noted, for those who did not read my earlier coverage, that Seattle is the largest metro area in the United States without a major winter pro sports team.

The city is known for their passionate support of their current teams: the Seahawks in the NFL, the Sounders of MLS, the Mariners of MLB, and the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. The Seattle group used that as part of their pitch to the NHL committee on Tuesday and noted the excitement of the city, as evidenced by the season ticket drive results which were outstanding.

The addition of Seattle (it looks like a mere formality at this point) means that Quebec has no realistic prospect of entering the league unless one of the current teams decides to relocate to their city. The league, once it adds Seattle, will be balanced with 16 teams in each conference for the first time in several years. The NHL will not be looking to expand and “cut the pie” of revenue sharing again for quite some time.

The relocation targets for Quebec of the Carolina Hurricanes or Florida Panthers moving north of the border both look more unlikely. The Carolina team changes owners but the lease agreement on the arena is very friendly to the ownership. The Florida club got better, younger, and they saw their attendance improve somewhat. It seems less likely they will move or that the NHL would allow them to exit the South Florida market.

The last remaining hope is the Arizona Coyotes, but they are looking at a new arena site in The Valley and are also linked to Portland, OR if they were to relocate. I think the NHL, which wants desperately to remain in Phoenix, would more likely approve a move to Portland to keep the conferences balanced before it would vote to move the team to Quebec.

Seattle is going to be an intriguing market for the sport and for visiting teams and their respective fans. The Key Arena renovation is very ambitious and is the mitigating factor on whether the new team begins play in 2020 or 2021. That facility is going to combine the old with the new. The iconic roof will remain in place, the green space around the arena will be kept as well. The modern amenities and wider concourses will be added and the design of the new seating will provide hockey fans with great angles to view all of the action.

The talk in Seattle is that now that the NHL looks like a lock to come to the Emerald City, where is the NBA in all of this? When can the Sonics return to the hardwood? That looks rather unlikely from the standpoint and tone of the NBA and their Commissioner, Adam Silver, in recent statements.

Some people do not understand it, but in my earlier coverage of this topic and the NBA expansion bid to Seattle, it makes sense. The NBA preferred the “SoDo arena” proposal as it was known with Chris Hansen investing in all of that land downtown to build a brand-new arena for the Sonics to return. That agreement with the city was for an NBA-first facility. It would be designed with hockey as a secondary tenant.

The Key Arena proposal which the city ended up going forward with, is an NHL-first agreement which means that the NHL team will be the primary tenant and will get the better end of the revenue and gate sharing agreements in the building. The NBA expansion to that market under those conditions would limit the profitability of the Sonics. The NBA also has no imminent plans to expand and has other markets that will promise and are in better position to deliver, better profitability for the NBA in the long term than Seattle at this point.

The fans of hockey in Seattle should be thrilled, it is an exciting time for them and for hockey fans in general; especially given the success of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season last year. The next big decision once the vote comes through in December is to determine a team name. The NHL is coming to Seattle and the excitement has only just begun.

(thanks to The Seattle Times for some background information and to NHL.com as well)

NHL Expansion To Seattle Looks Inevitable

The recent news that the Seattle ownership group has filed an application with the NHL for an official expansion bid and included a $10 million deposit has been at the top of the news surrounding hockey in the past week.

The group can now begin a season ticket sales drive (begins March 1st) in a similar process to how the NHL proceeded with the Las Vegas expansion bid a couple of years ago. The ticket sales results will then be submitted to the league office so they can more adequately gauge the level of interest in the sport in the Seattle market.

The major sports media outlets as well as the local Seattle media are all essentially positioning the Seattle NHL expansion bid as a “done deal”. In my research I found one article that acknowledges that the process has some hurdles that should potentially temper the expectations for a future hockey team in Seattle.

Conversely, the fact that the NHL has coveted the Seattle market is among the worst kept secrets in the sports business news for a couple of years now. The league would benefit greatly from the geographic location, TV market/media market size, the natural regional rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, and the noted passion of the fans of that city for their sports teams.

In fact, there are some within the sports media and sports business experts that maintain that Seattle would have been awarded an expansion franchise with Las Vegas in that last expansion cycle. Seattle did not submit a bid because they did not have an agreement on an adequate arena that was up to NHL standards.

The lack of a modern sports arena has derailed the progress of Seattle gaining an NHL or NBA franchise to replace the departed and beloved Supersonics for several years. The arena issue was the reason why the NBA bolted the city about ten years ago and it has taken all of that time to get a comprehensive plan put into action.

My earlier piece on the Seattle arena renovation of the Key Arena at Seattle Center provides the context of the details of the deal that will provide the city with a state of the art arena by 2020 or 2021. That is the earliest we can expect a hockey team to start playing in the Emerald City.

The potential approval of Seattle’s bid fixes the West-East conference imbalance the NHL has been dealing with for several years. The league would have sixteen teams in each conference, and the scheduling would be much smoother, and travel would be improved for the players as well.

The successful bid for Seattle does present some questions regarding the other cities that have been in the mix for an expansion team such as Portland, Houston, and Quebec City. Those cities are now potentially on the outside looking in, with regard to an expansion team because it is unlikely that the league will expand again beyond the 32 member franchises it will have given Seattle is successful with their bid.

The most likely logistical solution for at least two of those three cities would be to gain a team via relocation. The current situations for two or three current NHL franchises are tenuous at best at this point and that could provide the ability for one or more of those hopeful cities to gain “a seat at the table”.

The Calgary Flames, the Arizona Coyotes, and some feel the Florida Panthers all have some instability in their current markets. The relocation of an NHL team is certainly a long shot because the league prefers to keep teams in their markets unless a move is absolutely the last resort left to pursue. In fact, there are some within the hockey media that maintain that having Houston and Quebec City out there as possible alternative markets is exactly what the league office wants because it provides them leverage with the current markets in getting a favorable deal.

The league could “strong arm” a city like Calgary or Phoenix into a real estate deal with a publicly subsidy for a new hockey arena in terms that blatantly benefit the NHL because they can threaten the relocation of the team to Houston or Quebec. Those two markets, Calgary and Arizona, have been a total debacle for a while. It is becoming a major problem for the league that those cities are in limbo, and the exertion of pressure with regard to relocation is one of the few cards that the respective ownership groups of the Flames and Coyotes have left to play.

In the end, it looks like Seattle will be the next city to be awarded expansion into the NHL, and if it is anything close to the success that hockey has seen already in Las Vegas it is going to further continue the emergence of the league in new markets in the years ahead.

Follow Up: Seattle Arena Renovations Approved

The news that the Seattle City Council voted by a 7-1 count in favor of close to $600 million in funding for the renovation of Key Arena, ends a saga that spanned several years revolving around both politics and sports.

That saga involved a few very different proposals, and two big spending groups of business leaders: one led by Chris Hansen, and the other the Oak View Group which boasts Jerry Bruckheimer, among others. The lack of a suitable arena is what drove the Supersonics basketball team to move out of the city in 2008, and it also cost the city a potential slot in the NHL expansion process a couple of years ago.

The vote to approve these renovations to Key Arena casts a great deal of clarity on a situation that was once very fluid in Seattle. The vote comes one day after the MOU between the city and Hansen expired, effectively ending that bid from ever moving forward. The vote also means that the NHL may have an expansion announcement regarding Seattle shortly.

Hansen, as it was noted in my earlier coverage of this topic, spent millions of his own money to obtain land over a period of several years in an attempt to build an arena in the “stadium district” in the southern part of downtown Seattle. That plan also required the land around a roadway to be sold and the road grid to be changed to be able to have adequate space for the arena concept in the proposal.

The Hansen proposal was not popular among several constituency groups and political groups in Seattle. It was opposed by the Port of Seattle because of the proximity to the port and the impact that game/event traffic could have on trucks and port operations. The city politicians also had no intention of selling him the land on Occidental, which became known as the “road abatement” clause in the proposal, which was an unpopular concept from the start. Hansen had a dream to bring the Supersonics back to Seattle, and it is hard not to feel badly for him that his proposal is dead, and the NBA could still be another 4 to 5 years away from coming back to Seattle.

It appears that with the Key Arena renovations, which is at Seattle Center up by the Space Needle, the city officials are banking on the central location as well as public transportation improvements to guide the way to a world class arena in their city. The renovations could be completed by October 2020, and appears that the NHL would be the anchor tenant initially for the newly renovated facility.

The NHL expanding to Seattle makes a great deal of sense because the city fills a void for the league in a region (Pacific Northwest) that is largely untapped for hockey. The team would have a natural rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, which the league likes the ability to play up regional rivalry type games. Seattle also has a strong potential ownership group, great potential for corporate sponsorship, and is known for having loyal fans for their other professional teams.

Seattle would represent a large media and TV market for the NHL to tap into heading into their next media rights contract which would improve the value of that deal. It also would balance the NHL which currently has 31 teams: 16 in the East and 15 in the West, the addition of Seattle would even the conferences from an alignment standpoint.

The NHL could also relocate a team from another market to Seattle, as I have covered in the past, with the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames both potentially looking to leave their current market over disputes involving their current respective arena leases.

The NBA, according to reports from NBC among others, is not actively entering into an expansion process. The current CBA agreement between the players union and the league ownership has a clause for potential expansion in 2022. That is where certain people within the Oak View Group involved in the Seattle arena renovations have indicated that the Sonics could return to the NBA.

The process to this point has been a long road, Seattle is one of the few major American cities to not have an updated or newly constructed arena for entertainment and sports. The vote today will provide major enhancements to a nostalgic building in the heart of the downtown area of the city.

The sports fans there could be welcoming NHL hockey to their city and that would become a destination for many hockey fans from outside the region as well. The return of the Sonics may not be far behind. In the end, the Oak View Group was better connected than the Hansen group, it had a proposal that utilized an existing arena rather than constructing something totally new, and the Key Arena proposal kept the historic roof as well as other elements intact which was very smart.

The arena will be renovated and will be incredible when it is completed if it is anywhere near the renderings I saw earlier today. The city will now wait and see if their investment will yield them the sports teams they desire. The addition of one team generates a greatly enhanced amount of revenue for the city and Oak View Group than just having concerts and shows at the venue. The addition of two teams would be a revenue machine and would make for happy residents as well.

Seattle just put the money on the table to become a premiere sports city, a move they were reluctant to make in the past, now it will be interesting to see how the NHL and NBA respond in the months ahead.

The Strategy Behind Building Sports Arenas

The conclusion that I have come to over the past four and a half years of writing pieces centered on the topic of sports arenas, is that a strategy exists in getting these deals done that is far more intricate than many would believe. These strategies involve the team ownership, the league office, as well as political and business leaders.

These strategies could involve a real estate developer if they are not already involved as part of the ownership group, and they can involve civic groups or environmental groups depending on the project.

These arena development agreements for sports can be complex and involve tax payer dollars, or they can be privately financed which inherently leads to other issues in that circumstance.

The strategy behind the building of a sports arena was on full display over the past two days with the situation in Seattle. The lack of an updated venue that met current NBA or NHL standards was the main reason why the Sonics moved out of the city about nine years ago. The city had been working with a developer for a proposed new sports arena in the SoDo neighborhood, which was proving to have too many cumbersome hurdles.

The city shifted their priority to the old Key Arena at Seattle Center and fielded development proposals to renovate, expand, or rebuild a new arena on that site. The Oak View Group had the winning proposal, and on Tuesday, the city government announced the agreement of a newly renovated and expanded world class arena on the Seattle Center site built entirely with private funds.

The residents who pined for the return of the Sonics, and the sports fans that dreamed of an NHL expansion hockey team in the Emerald City, rejoiced because they had finally a light at the end of the tunnel with this news. The last, and most important, major hurdle for the city to gain at least one, if not two, new major league teams was seemingly cleared.

The old adage: “you never know what tomorrow will bring” is certainly true in Seattle; where residents woke up the next morning to learn that the Mayor of Seattle announced his resignation amid an alleged sexual misconduct scandal, and that the arena plans for Seattle Center were put on hold indefinitely.

In addition, in a related story, Wednesday brought the news that the Calgary Flames and their new arena negotiations with municipal officials were broken off with no resolution. This situation has been brewing for several months with proposals and counter-proposals being made by both sides, with no substantive progress being made toward a functional plan.

The surprising element of this situation is that the incumbent mayor, Mayor Neshi, was publicly acting as if the new sports and entertainment arena was part of his vision for the future of the city. The Flames management held a Wednesday press conference to refute that vision by stating that Mayor Neshi has not advocated at all for a new arena, and was insinuating to the public another stance in order to win the votes of hockey fans.

The NHL league office sent a strongly worded message to the Mayor, and the components of these arena deals are riled up north of the border. This news that the Flames had put $200 million on the table toward the development of the new facility and then even changed the site from one end of the city to the other, immediately bowed to speculation that the team would relocate to either Seattle or Quebec City.

The Flames management stated that they will continue to play in the second oldest arena in the NHL, while the other teams enjoy the advantages from better revenue streams achieved by playing in a new facility. However, they also insinuated that they will keep the relocation option on the table. The Mayor does not have to change his stance because polling shows that the people in Calgary do not want to use public money on a new arena.

The relocation to Quebec City is always going to be a hot topic, as they took an entirely different approach and pulled out all the stops to build a new arena a few years ago with no guarantee of an NHL team coming there either through expansion or relocation. The NHL passed them over for expansion in this last cycle, choosing Las Vegas to expand the league into, citing the weak Canadian dollar at that point in time.

A group of NHL players were surveyed recently and the majority of them selected Quebec as the place they would like the league to expand to in the future. This was ahead of Seattle and Houston on the list of choices. Quebec will always be a popular spot because of their history in the league with the Nordiques, and the nostalgia that hockey fans have for that team and for the rivalry with Montreal to be reinstituted.

Quebec took the step of making the most difficult hurdle in gaining a new franchise, the arena, the easiest step by building it. The residents, business leaders, and politicians were all on board with getting an NHL team, now they will wait to see if that maneuver will provide the desired end result.

The New York Islanders are involved in a new arena quest as well. The main issue is that when the team moved from Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn, they underestimated the significance of the Barclays Center being built for basketball and the impact that would have on the hockey fan experience.

The sight lines for hockey at Barclays are terrible, the scoreboard is off center in the orientation to the rink, and the ice conditions are awful because the arena does not have the right pipes to adequately keep the water temperature low enough. It is a total debacle and the team is looking at two potential sites in Queens: one near Aqueduct Racetrack, and the other next to Citi Field where the New York Mets play baseball.

The league office has completely shut down any potential for the Islanders to return to Nassau Coliseum (which was renovated completely and is now a smaller seating capacity) and pursuing the Queens options. Many people in recent polling believe that the Islanders arena, another new arena in the NY metro area is unnecessary, so it will be interesting to see how this situation works itself out.

The New York metro area is one of key significance for the NHL and with the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, the league has three franchises in the region and has a vested interest in making sure that all of them are given the best possible opportunity to remain profitable.

The scenario with the Islanders searching for a new home is similar, yet different, to the Arizona Coyotes and their ongoing struggle to find a new arena closer to the population center of the Phoenix market. The Coyotes have had issues for years on the business side, and the dispute with the Glendale municipal government involving the arena lease terms are just the tip of the iceberg.

The ownership group of the team appeared to have a deal in place with Arizona State University for a new arena being built in Tempe, but that deal fell through in February 2017. The focus now is on a few other sites in the East Valley and this boondoggle for a new arena will continue for the foreseeable future, as will the inevitable relocation rumors.

However, relocation seems unlikely as the NHL is unbalanced and needs more teams in the West, they would not move the Coyotes to Quebec, and the situation in Seattle is murky at best. The league remains bullish on keeping a team in the Phoenix area because they are enamored with the media market size.

The Phoenix Suns are also seeking a new arena to replace their current aging home court, and the NBA league office is, of course, willing to back the team up on getting the public funds squeezed out of the government to get that accomplished.

The state and municipal level governments in Arizona are looking at a scenario where the Coyotes, Suns, and the MLB team, the Arizona Diamondbacks; are all seeking taxpayer funding for public/private arrangements to build new sports venues. The resulting idea within the state assembly there is to build a sports arena in downtown Phoenix that would be shared by both the Suns and the Coyotes in order to save the outlay of total public funds.

However, the reports out of Phoenix are that the Suns ownership is not on board with sharing a facility and want their own facility in the downtown area. The Coyotes are in a different situation, they have stayed publicly mum on the shared arena concept, largely because they would probably play anywhere other than in their current arena in Glendale. It is a situation that is complex, has a ton of moving parts with proposed arena sites on Native American tribal lands, and a host of other issues that merit watching in the weeks ahead.

The Carolina Hurricanes are the final situation with arena management and potential relocation that will be explored in this analysis. The team is about to be sold from Peter Karamanos to Chuck Greenberg but the sale is not completely finalized yet.

The arena lease is key to the sale because the team has been the source of relocation rumors for the past four or five years. Carolina does not have the corporate sponsorship opportunities of other, larger markets. The Hurricanes have not had much on-ice success in recent years which has put a subsequent drag on attendance levels.

The current arena lease between the group that controls the arena and the Hurricanes is seen as one of the most favorable lease agreements from the perspective of the team as far as being a tenant in a building. The PNC Arena is in need of some renovations and improvements which many believe will be done once Mr. Greenberg affirms that the team is staying in North Carolina.

The consensus from some within the NHL circles is that the team could relocate to Quebec, but in many ways that may not make sense from a business perspective. The ownership, in this case Greenberg, would have to pay a steep relocation fee to go to Quebec. In this case, the ownership could use that money as their portion of a public/private agreement to construct a new arena in North Carolina.

The case for a sports arena is dependent upon so many variables and involves many shifting priorities and calculated interest groups from politicians, to team owners, to the league office, and local business leaders. The case studies, individually must be taken on balance, I understand all sides of the situation.

The owners feel that the municipal governments stand to make a lot of money on the ratable tax revenue from the arena, the public feels that they should not have tax money go toward the construction of a facility of this type, and the cities that do not have a new sports / entertainment venue miss out on the latest acts or could lose a team over it. All of these variables are valid, and all of the scenarios I laid out will continue to develop from Seattle to Phoenix and beyond in the months ahead.

The Politics of Sports: The Seattle Arena

The politics of sports has been on display fully over the past week with the announced plans for the Seattle arena. The city decided that their best option at this point is to move forward with the proposal from Oak View Group (OVG) which involves a complete renovation of the old Key Arena at Seattle Center.

This option was chosen and recommended by the Mayor and other politicians involved over the proposal from Seattle Partners, which also had a plan to renovate “the Key”. However, their plan contained some elements that concerned some key people in the city government. They officially “withdrew” their proposal ahead of not being chosen just before the announcement was made late last week regarding the arena plan for Seattle to gain either an NBA or NHL franchise.

The other option on the table is the SoDo arena concept pushed by Chris Hansen and his group of investors, which he has spent huge sums of his own money obtaining land in that part of the downtown area with the goal of getting the Sonics NBA team back to the city. The plan involves the vacation of a roadway which is very unpopular with the politicians as well as a location that is close to the Port of Seattle and the major outdoor stadiums for their other professional sports teams.

This location coupled with the change to the roadway grid and the potential for traffic congestion near the Port, all are factors that are stacked against the SoDo arena concept. Those factors outweighed the amended proposal from that investment group that stated that they would develop the site and construct the arena completely with private funds.

The renovation of the Key Arena at Seattle Center will be a public/private partnership arrangement for the financing, which is admittedly unpopular with some Seattle residents. The OVG proposal involves keeping the iconic roof structure of the facility intact while essentially gutting and rebuilding the entire existing interior structure. It will reconstruct the entire seating bowl and their plan for the site involves digging below ground to expand the footprint of the building while maintaining structural integrity. It will also be an environmentally friendly building project, with LEED certification processes involved in the various aspects of the construction of the renovated facility.

NHL Response

The NHL was contacted almost immediately after the news that Seattle was moving forward with the OVG renovation project for an arena that would meet NHL standards. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, issued a statement that essentially stated that the NHL has had no contact with Seattle and has no plans to expand the league at this point.

The politics of sports on the professional stage was in full effect here as well. It is no secret that the NHL has interest in expanding to Seattle. The demographics of that market make so much sense for the league in several metrics, that they would be foolish not to explore the option. The OVG proposal added two partners that are keen on getting professional hockey to Seattle, which was noted in the press release of the announcement.

Bettman is playing his cards here because he does not want to discourage other markets interested in potential expansion from thinking that Seattle has any sort of inside track to what will probably be the last slot available in the NHL for a very long time. The NHL has a conference alignment issue with 16 teams in the East and 14 teams in the West. The league took one step toward correction of that imbalance with the addition of Las Vegas as an expansion franchise beginning next season.

The assumption is that they will add one more team in the West to balance the two conferences and the league for scheduling and other purposes in the somewhat near future. The OVG group stated that the proposal is still pending approval and they will need at least 2 years probably closer to 3 years to get the entire renovation at Key Arena completed.

Design Concerns

Some area residents are not happy because they did not want another major sports team or teams playing in that neighborhood. This is a very political issue and the design of the building and the mass transit plan for light rail access is part of the proposal from the city level to alleviate traffic concerns.

The design of the building was also a point of concern for residents of that neighborhood. Some concerned parties did not want a monstrous new arena going into that Seattle Center site. The trend in sports arenas is for larger footprint buildings packed with amenities for fans and concert attendees.

The OVG plan for Key Arena accomplished providing more amenities without dramatically increasing the overall footprint of the facility by proposing to dig below ground and implementing those amenities in areas below the current street level. The plan for the renovated facility also calls for improvements to the park area around the Seattle Center, which should be viewed favorably by the residents.

NBA: “Cutting the Pie”
The return of the NBA to Seattle is an entirely different situation. The topic of expansion for hockey has been an active one, with Las Vegas set to join the circuit and with the imbalance of teams alluded to earlier. The NBA is in a different stage in their life cycle as a league. The owners and the league office just agreed recently to a new TV and media rights deal that will reap them significant economic revenue which is divided up among each member franchise.

The NBA owners are currently not eager to “cut the pie” into more pieces by adding more franchises. The amount of the expansion fee would be offset by the amount that the new team gets as their portion of basketball related income. The NBA also has no franchises in a situation where relocation is being discussed.

These factors, when all are taken into account, amount to the fact that the Key Arena renovation, if approved, is going to take approximately three years to complete from the point that permission is given for renovation work to begin. The NBA is not planning to expand any time soon. The NHL has other interested cities in expansion, but they may never expand to Seattle for a variety of reasons.

The politics of sports in this situation leaves the SoDo arena proposal in serious jeopardy. The time, effort, and money spent by that group is going to upset some powerful people in that city if that proposal is rejected by the political groups involved.

Up In Flames

The politics involved in the Seattle arena decision also could become a leverage play for another team: the Calgary Flames. The president of that hockey team, Brian Burke, commented to a group of business leaders at a team function recently that the franchise could move out of Calgary if it does not get a new arena.

He continued his comments reportedly by stating that the Flames had relocation cities under consideration if they were to ultimately decide to move the team out of Calgary. In that scenario, once relocation is brought up, Seattle is not very far behind. It is no secret that Seattle wants an NHL team, and the opportunities for relocating an existing franchise are very unique and infrequent.

The Calgary Flames have presented their vision and plan for a new arena and entertainment district with other real estate development around the new facility that has been deemed “unsustainable” by the political powers that be in that city. This is where the friction between the city and the team began.

The Flames play in the SaddleDome which was built when Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988. It is among the oldest arenas in the league, a fact that supports the team ownership and their contention that it needs to be replaced. The Mayor and other politicians have stated that they do not support using taxpayer money to fund a new arena. This could get very sticky, and the speculation over the future of the team in that city will follow suit.

It is doubtful that Calgary will leave a city that they have an established fan base within and have over 30 plus years of history. It could be that Seattle is a leverage play, as I mentioned before, or it could become seriously considered for their future. The primary issue is that Seattle lacks a suitable arena for at least three years.

Another option to watch is the Flames using Quebec City as either a chip to secure their own new arena deal, or for a real alternative should the political situation with Calgary become untenable. Quebec is a whole different scenario because they have an NHL ready arena built and fully operational, they just lack a team.

It is all part of the politics of sports and it has played out in two places, Seattle and Calgary, in a week. Those two situations are just a drop in the bucket, wait until next week, and the next potential issue with politics and sports will be right around the next bend.

NJ Devils: West to East Coast – The Road Ahead

The New Jersey Devils lost yet another game on the road last night to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime. Since the teams reached the extra session, the Devils will earn a point in the standings for the overtime loss, but it still leaves an unsettling feeling for the fans. This 2016-17 Devils team has struggled on the road so far, and the reverse is also true: the team has been very strong on their home ice (7 wins, and only 2 losses – both in overtime) which has buoyed their overall performance.

There are some fans and local “beat” media types that are quick to point out that many of those games where the Devils performance has lacked are in games against top tier teams or teams with winning records, for the most part. They would also be correct in generalizing the effort of New Jersey being very resolute in many of those games, where they have battled to stay in those losing games rather than give up.

However, in my view, the fact that the Devils have played 14 games on the road this season and have won just 3 of those games and lost 11 times (7 in regulation and 4 in overtime), is a concern. I can concede that it is still early, there is a great deal of hockey still left to be played; but the reality is that these trends get entrenched and they are difficult for teams to turn around.

In addition, the team has been without star forward Taylor Hall who was out with an injury until his return last night to the action in Chicago. Hall does significantly impact the manner in which the team approaches the strategy to a given game. His ability to use his speed and skating ability to push the puck forward puts pressure on the opposing team and changes the way in which the Devils hold the zone offensively and transition the puck as well. That type of impact cannot be underscored. It obviously remains to be seen how a healthy and effective Taylor Hall as well as the health of other key players impacts the performance of the team on the road as the season moves forward.

The silver lining in the case of a tough team like Chicago is that the Devils will not have to play there again this season. The Devils also dealt with a trip to the West Coast already and subjected themselves to that gauntlet. The point being that they have put some of the more difficult road trips behind them.

It should also be noted that the Devils schedule is “back loaded” with home games in the second half, which if they play to their potential and are in the mix for a wild card playoff spot, they should be able to win several of those home games, so they figure to be well positioned in the long term.

Conversely, they have not played many Metropolitan Division opponents so far this season, so New Jersey has some difficult games ahead against teams in the top of the standings such as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets.

In addition, the Devils have several games remaining with the top teams from the Atlantic Division such as the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Boston Bruins. It is going to be “tough sledding” until February where they have nine of their eleven games that month are at home at Prudential Center.

In the meantime, we will learn if Travis Zajac has found his scoring touch again after the hat trick last night. We will see how the new defensive pairings for this season hold up under the crucible of Metropolitan divisional rivalry games. We will see if the young Devils prospects can continue to contribute in the various facets of the game on a consistent basis.

The Devils have areas to improve and they have areas where they have been surprisingly better than anticipated, but that is not unlike many other teams at this point in a hockey season. It remains to be seen how the road ahead will treat New Jersey, but I know one thing: they have to figure out a way to win games away from Prudential Center, or else this season will be over before we know it.

The Desert Drama: The Battle Between The Arizona Coyotes and Glendale

The Arizona Coyotes hockey franchise and the City of Glendale agreed recently to a new 2 year arena maintenance deal following another round of acrimony in what has been a saga surrounding the team and the city for years. The City of Glendale voted recently to terminate the team’s lease on the Gila River Arena in order to renegotiate the terms of the agreement with the team.

 

I have covered this debacle for a few years now, and if you strip away all of the other minutia to the situation it comes down to money, like any other negotiation. Under the terms of the new agreement, the amount that Glendale will pay to the Coyotes is trimmed from $15 million per year to $6.5 million annually. The team gains $6 million in revenue from parking, ticket sales, and naming rights that originally had gone to Glendale in the prior deal. The team is staying put for now, but the length of the new lease is shorter and raises speculation about the future of the team. Both sides are saying they are committed to making hockey work in Glendale.

 

However, it does raise the distinct possibility that the franchise could be relocated to another city in the near future. The new agreement provides the Coyotes ownership with an out-clause in June 2017, which is a full year earlier than the mechanism that would have triggered that clause in the original lease.

 

The NHL recently opened the process for expansion and groups from Las Vegas and Quebec City submitted formal bids. The now infamous exclusion of the expected Seattle bid from the process made headlines. The NHL has strong interest in the Seattle market and it would help balance the league which has two less franchises in the Western Conference. The main issue though is a lack of an arena suitable to host an NHL team for 41 games a season.

The three groups potentially interested in bringing hockey to Seattle have different plans for getting an arena built in that marketplace. Since none of the proposals were progressed far enough it is the reason given for their absence from the expansion process this past week.

 

I could see a scenario where the Coyotes are potentially relocated in a couple of years to the Seattle market once they have the financing and approval as well as begin construction on a new arena.

 

Valley of the Sun

 

In recent weeks, another potential option has emerged which could resolve this issue between the current ownership group of the team and the City of Glendale while allowing the team to remain in Arizona.

 

That resolution revolves around a proposal which was introduced recently in the state legislature regarding the construction of a new arena in downtown Phoenix. The proposal originally was targeting the use of the arena as an upgraded facility for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, but now some politicians have floated the idea of including the Coyotes as a co-anchor tenant for the new arena.

 

In the event that this proposal is acceptable to all sides involved and the respective league officials involved this could be a win-win situation for the Valley of the Sun. The State of Arizona would keep both their NBA and NHL franchises, the teams would get a new building to call home, the fans would keep their teams, and the leagues -in particular the NHL- would not lose a top TV market.

 

Phoenix also could solve the attendance problems which have plagued the Coyotes because any area resident will tell you that rush hour traffic issues getting to Glendale coupled with the fact that the area around the arena in Glendale never properly developed, are two main reasons behind the difficulties with drawing fans to NHL games in that market.

 

The downtown arena in Phoenix would solve the issue because it would be far more accessible to fans travelling in from the suburbs or coming from work, especially for weeknight games. The NHL would probably support this move because they have been dogged in their determination to keep the Coyotes in the Phoenix market for years.

 

Alternate Plans

 

The situation surrounding the Coyotes future in Arizona gets far more uncertain if the public funding for a new downtown arena in Phoenix fails to gain passage in the state legislature. The current arena in Phoenix which houses the Suns is not a viable option for hockey because it requires an odd configuration to fit the ice sheet which causes many seats to have obstructed views, it is the reason why the Coyotes moved out to Glendale in the first place.

 

The alternative plan some have suggested of relocating the Coyotes to Las Vegas in two years certainly makes some degree of sense especially given the geography of the move. The team could stay in the same division and play within driving distance of their former home territory which could translate into a crossover fan base.

 

Conversely, the NHL would not be too keen on this idea because they would stand to gain a lot less revenue from this maneuver. The difference between a current team relocating and the addition of an expansion team is that the NHL can charge a new expansion team with an entrance fee. The entrance fee if the NHL expands into Las Vegas with a new franchise is said to be around $500 million which would then be split between the league and the owners.

 

A relocation of the Coyotes to Las Vegas would translate into a forfeiture of the entrance fee, and therefore, would probably not receive league approval. The same could be said for a relocation to Quebec City, which the NHL plans to ask for a potentially larger expansion fee based on the popularity of the sport in Canada.

 

I know someone who recently mentioned to me that the relocation of the Coyotes could be to a second team in the Toronto market. The issue with that move though is the outlandish fee that the NHL will make that team pay to the Maple Leafs to be able to share the market with them. That has been cost prohibitive to other efforts to add a second team to hockey’s largest market in the past. That scenario could work if they were to share the arena because the owners would save on that cost, but I think the NHL would prefer to have a team expand into that market for the same reasons I outlined earlier: the expansion fee would be much larger than a relocation of an existing team.

 

Therefore, if the Phoenix plan falters, the remaining move on the board, at least at this point is for the Coyotes to move their operation to the Seattle market. I think it will take two to three years for the Coyotes to make a determination on whether a move to downtown Phoenix is enough to save hockey in the desert. In that same vein, it will take Seattle two or three years to get their arena situation squared away.

 

The more information that comes out about the Seattle groups and the arena plans they have, it seems more improbable that it will get done unless something changes along the way. The Tukwila proposal would cost $500 million total financed privately by the business community and the potential ownership group. The Coleman group bid is connected to the downtown arena proposed to be built for an NBA team that may not ever happen (see my article on the new Bucks arena which was the best chance for Seattle to get a relocated NBA team and now is vanquished) because any change to make the arena project for a hockey team would require a change in the MOU between the city and the investors who own the land which is not happening.

 

The third ownership group has a plan for an arena in Bellevue but the issue is quite simple, they do not own the land to build it. The land in that suburb is not readily available and is not cheap. It could take four or five years to get the project done. The NHL is said through sources to prefer the downtown arena option over the suburban plans, but they all have issues on one level or another.

 

In the end analysis, as I wrote in the beginning this is all about money. The future of the Coyotes franchise will be wherever they can maximize revenues, if that is in Arizona they will stay. The more likely scenario is that in a few years this team and hockey in the American desert will be gone, and I feel terribly for their fans, it will be reduced to nothing but memories.

 

NHL Expansion Follow Up: The Case for Seattle

The NHL is just returning from their Olympic break where game operations were suspended so that the players could represent their respective countries in Sochi.

 

In a relatively slow news cycle for the NHL at this point, one story did gain some traction, and that is the discussion by NHL executives with the media regarding the potential expansion of the league to Seattle.

 

This is not the first time Seattle has been mentioned relative to the NHL, the city was rumored to be a potential relocation target for the struggling Phoenix Coyotes franchise prior to the start of this season. I have covered the situation surrounding the Coyotes ownership changes and potential relocation to Seattle, so this will serve as a follow up story to a situation that I have a great deal of knowledge about.

 

The NHL has discussed the potential for expansion recently especially after the lockout hurt revenues in 2012-13. The expansion fee for a new franchise to enter the league would represent a significant revenue injection for the other owners in the NHL.

 

The western United States is a target area for the league at this point with the realignment causing the Eastern Conference to have two more teams than the Western Conference. The Pacific Northwest is seen as a having significant growth potential for the NHL, and the key market in the region is Seattle.

 

The potential expansion of the NHL to Seattle would add a large TV market (12th largest) which will provide greater leverage for the league in their next television rights contract negotiations, and greater revenue from TV advertising.

 

The addition of an expansion franchise in Seattle would also bring the NHL into another large population center as Seattle has the 15th largest metropolitan area population in the United States. In fact, between the TV market and the metro area population statistics, Seattle would be a larger market for the NHL than 10 other domestic U.S. markets where the league has current franchises in operation.

 

Heading North

 

A group of business, civic, and political leaders from Seattle recently traveled north of the border to Vancouver to meet with the front office and executives from the Vancouver Canucks to learn how the team conducts the business of professional hockey.

 

This trip is another indication that the expansion of the NHL to Seattle is becoming more serious. The business side of an NHL franchise is very unique, and this meeting was a very good idea, especially when members of the Seattle Sports Commission told the local media that some members of the delegation travelling to Vancouver had never seen a live hockey game before.

 

The rumored ownership team for the prospective expansion franchise in Seattle is Ray Bartoszek and Anthony Lanza. These two businessmen were also the principal people involved when the NHL considered relocating the Phoenix Coyotes to Seattle in the summer of 2013. The qualifications of an ownership group represent a huge hurdle in the decision for a league to award an expansion franchise, it appears that Seattle has a well-financed group in place.

 

The other big issue in the case for Seattle to be awarded an NHL expansion franchise is the arena situation, which is another huge piece to consider in this process. The NHL has stated that if it were to expand the league, the added team or teams would begin play in 2015-16. This time frame may give Seattle enough time to gain final approvals and construct the proposed new arena near the other two sports stadiums downtown.

 

However, that brings a new issue to the table, the funding for the arena is based on an agreement between the City of Seattle, King County, and investor Chris Hansen that calls for an NBA team to be the primary tenant of the new arena. Therefore, the public funding agreements would need to be changed should the city be granted an NHL team before they gain an NBA franchise.

 

 

The time frame for expansion is appropriate because it will take a couple of years to hire personnel to staff the front office and the business operations side of the team, organize a marketing campaign, and sell luxury suites or season ticket plans.

 

The expansion fee is expected to be very large with estimates in the media of close to $250 million. Then factor in approximately $500 million for the new arena, and Seattle is poised to make a huge investment in professional hockey.

 

I have reported on the potential expansion of the NHL before, and the league will most likely expand by two teams in 2015-16. The media speculation is that the NHL will most likely select Seattle and then either Quebec City or Kansas City with the other expansion slot.

 

The result of all of this, in the end, it looks like Seattle is going to have an NHL hockey team to cheer for in the near future.

(Credit to NBC Sports.com and Seattle Times for some background information)

 

 

TV Markets and the Expansion of Sports – Part 4

The demographics of a city or metropolitan area, their media market size, the support of the political leadership in the city and the support of the business community are important aspects in determining the expansion of a professional sports league.

 

In this fourth installment of this series, the focus will be on the National Hockey League (NHL) and the potential expansion opportunities for a league which is rapidly growing in popularity. The NHL has witnessed some outstanding revenue growth in recent years which enabled them to obtain a huge television and media rights deal with Comcast/NBC (www.nbcsports.com).

 

In 2012 and 2013, every playoff game from every series was televised nationally via the Comcast/NBC for the first time in the history of the league (www.nhl.com). The NHL has long been considered the “fourth league” of the “Big 4” professional sports in the United States, but the ratings are growing exponentially.

 

The 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins was a ratings record breaking series on NBC (www.nbcsports.com). This was in a year where the league had a lockout shortened season over a revenue dispute between the owners and the players union.

 

Realignment

 

The NHL realigned their divisions for the 2013-14 season into two conferences with two divisions in each conference. However, unlike other sports, the conferences are unbalanced.

The Eastern Conference has two divisions of eight teams each for a total of sixteen teams. The Western Conference consists of two divisions of seven teams each for a total of fourteen teams. That brings the total number of teams to 30, but many reports have indicated that this uneven conference split was done with expansion in mind.

 

The most obvious expansion would be by two teams to a total of 32 and have both of those teams be added in the Western Conference to balance the league. Numerous sources close to the league have reported that the increased revenues from two additional future expansion teams via the league entry fee and the entry into two new markets was part of the discussion during the lockout negotiations (www.cbssports.com).

 

The other rumor circulating throughout the media is that the NHL may expand by four franchises in the near future. If those reports are true, that would mean a significant revenue infusion to the league through the expansion franchise entry fees and subsequent introduction into four new marketplaces in North America.

 

The TV market metrics are probably the least important in hockey than in other sports because the average person and the consensus among the casual sports fan is that hockey does not translate well to the medium of television. Now, NBC has tried to enhance the broadcasts to change some of that perception and offers some unique camera angles and outstanding production value to their hockey telecasts.

 

However, the NHL makes their money with the live game experience. Last season, following a protracted labor stoppage, the hockey arenas in the NHL averaged game attendance levels at 95% of capacity (www.nhl.com). The NHL live game experience is, in my opinion, the best sporting event to attend.

 

The NHL executives and franchise owners know that they will get their die-hard fans in the building for the games and they have proven that, in a recession or otherwise, those fans will spend money at the games. So the addition of four potential new franchises could bring in more revenue through in-game expenditures, season ticket sales, luxury suite sales, and merchandise sales.

 

North of the Border

 

It is important to note that unlike the other major sports, Canada is a legitimate expansion area for the NHL, and a likely area of future expansion. The sport of hockey is so well loved and supported in Canada, that the NHL could put a franchise basically almost anywhere in that country and it would be a successful venture.

 

That type of widespread and virtually assured support cannot be found in the U.S. hockey marketplace, but it is surprising how well the NHL has done in cities such as Nashville, Tampa, Dallas, San Jose, and Anaheim.

 

The list below will also demonstrate that the interest for an NHL franchise in some U.S. markets is very high at this point.

 

Potential Expansion Markets

 

The following cities are potential candidates for expansion franchises in the NHL (all TV markets data courtesy of www.stationindex.com – all Fortune 500 company information courtesy of www.money.cnn.com – and all Metro Population data courtesy of www.census.gov ):

 

  • Seattle, WA – Has emerged as a very strong candidate for expansion based on the plans to build a new arena in the downtown area. The location, and population size and demographics make it a good fit for the NHL.

TV Market Rank: 14th

Metro Area Population Rank: 15th

Fortune 500 Company HQ: 4

Synopsis/ Outlook: The Seattle bid gained traction with the league when the Phoenix Coyotes looked as if they may relocate. The NHL quickly lined up Seattle as a potential alternative site to move the franchise. They even had an ownership group lined up. The location is key for this bid because it addresses a region (Pacific Northwest) where the NHL has no current presence other than the Vancouver Canucks. The population and TV Market sizes are very good, and corporate support would be strong. The population is hockey-savvy as they have several youth hockey and minor league hockey teams in the region. The arena situation would be the murkiest part of the bid today. The team may have to play temporarily at the Key Arena, which would be very small for hockey and has a strange configuration for hockey. The new arena being planned (see Part 1 of this series) is primarily for the NBA expansion team. The hockey team is viewed as the second tenant. I do not know if they would build the arena solely for a hockey team with no assurances from the NBA on a future expansion franchise for the city. Overall a very strong bid.

  • Quebec City – The second most widely regarded bid from NHL insiders is the bid from Quebec, which of course, was home to the Nordiques until they moved to Denver in the mid 1990s. A historic city with a rabid base of hockey fans.

Synopsis/Overview – The TV markets and other data does not apply to this Canadian city. The potential for regaining an NHL franchise is of tremendous importance to this city. The Mayor and the city government in Quebec City approved a new arena without a team or the assurances of an expansion team. In a “if we build it they will come” type of move they are currently in the construction phase of the new arena which is next to the old arena where the Nordiques once played. The NHL was so impressed with the confidence of the government and the people there, that the Quebec bid is thought to be a very strong one among league insiders.

  • Houston, TX – A “dark horse” candidate but a place that has shown interest in the past. It was one of two cities (Hartford was the other) that was used as a bargaining chip by the Penguins ownership to get the new arena in Pittsburgh done.

TV Market Rank: 10th

Metro Population Rank: 5th

Fortune 500 Company HQ: 23

Synopsis/Overview: Houston has some very strong positives for a NHL expansion bid including excellent demographics and TV market rankings. The city has a rapidly growing economy and is home to a whopping 23 Fortune 500 companies – so the right ownership group and strong corporate support would not be an issue. Due to the rapid economic growth the city has a changing population with transplanted residents from across the country. The bid would pitch the fact that the changing demographics mean more hockey fans living within the city metro area. The arena is state of the art and hosts the NBA’s Rockets currently. This bid has potential, and hockey has been successful in Dallas, but the league may be resistant if they are unsure of long term fan support with all the other major sports already having a presence in that market.

  • Markham, Ontario (other Toronto area city) – Toronto is the largest hockey market in the world. It currently has one team, the Maple Leafs, and they have struggled for a long period of time to get back to relevancy.

Synopsis/Overview: Since the other metrics do not apply here in a Canadian market, I will summarize this complicated bid. The issue here is that the league office and ownership had great support behind a bid for a second team in the Toronto market. In the past two years, some of that support has waned. The reports I have read indicate now that the Markham bid, or a bid by another Toronto area city, would very likely not get approved if the league expands by two franchises. It would have a better shot of getting in during the next round of expansion by two teams. The rationale behind this is two-fold: 1. The Maple Leafs are not thrilled about sharing the market with another franchise, especially an expansion franchise that will cut into their revenues directly. 2. The front runners for expansion at this point are not two Western cities which the NHL would need to balance the two conferences. Tim Leiweke who is a top executive with AEG (owner of arenas and sports teams) did a presentation last week and during the Q & A session which followed he stated the second Toronto team may not happen at all. He stated that the meetings he was involved with have Seattle and Quebec as the two front-runners and Kansas City and Las Vegas as very strong contenders for the second round of expansion(www.yahoo.com)  This would make sense because Quebec would bring the Eastern Conference to 17 teams, and Seattle would bring the West to 15 teams, and then the potential additions of two more Western teams would balance the league at 17 teams in each conference (total of 34 teams). Markham just approved financing of $350 million for an NHL caliber arena north of Toronto (www.cbc.ca). It could be very interesting what happens here with this bid. The University of Toronto commissioned a study which was reported by the CBC that the country of Canada could easily support 12 NHL teams (they currently have 9 teams in Canada). However the concentration of wealth in Toronto is what makes that market so attractive to the NHL. It is a risk to build an arena, but Markham decided in a slim margin in their city council vote, that the risk was worth taking.

  • Las Vegas, NV – One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world would provide a very robust stage for the NHL to showcase their international star players.

TV Markets Rank: 42nd

Metro Area Population Rank: 31st

Fortune 500 Company HQ: 4

Synopsis/Overview: The Las Vegas bid is considered within many circles close to the NHL to be a very strong potential contender for a franchise. The TV market ranking is a little low (Buffalo has an NHL team and is 51st) and the TV market as I stated earlier is not looked at in hockey as crucially as it is for other sports. The population is low too, but the league has several current franchises in smaller metro areas currently. The three biggest issues with a potential Las Vegas expansion bid are: the selection of a stable ownership group, the ability of the metro area population to support a team for the long term, and the arena. The NHL offices have expressed issues with the arena situation there numerous times in the past through various media reports. The largest arena in the city, The Thomas & Mack Center, does not have an ice sheet. That means that the temporary home for the team would have to be the MGM Grand Garden Arena which seats about 16,000 for hockey which is small (www.cbssports.com). However, MGM and the before mentioned AEG group recently announced a joint partnership on a brand new 20,000 seat arena to be built between the Monte Carlo and the New York, New York Casino Hotels (www.finance.yahoo.com). Just last week, the first renderings of the new Vegas arena went public. It will immediately be able to host an NBA or NHL team. The project is slated to begin in April 2014 and be finished in 2016. This project addresses the key issue the league had with Las Vegas. The NHL has always talked about wanting to be the first professional league to tap the Vegas market, and one final note, Jerry Bruckheimer is very close with the top executives at AEG. He has openly discussed wanting to own an NHL team in Las Vegas. A very strong bid made stronger by the new arena project.

  • Kansas City, MO – An interesting bid it would open up that part of the Midwest to the NHL and create an instant rivalry with the St. Louis Blues.

TV Markets Rank: 31st

Metro Population Rank: 30th

Fortune 500 Company HQ: 2

Synopsis/ Overview: Kansas City was also included in the NBA potential expansion bids. The strength of the bid is still the arena, Sprint Center, which is world class and has no permanent tenant. The taxpayers want a team for the building since they approved tax money to build it. The political goodwill is very strong here, and the corporate base would be supportive of an NHL team, though that support could be better in other cities with less sports teams already (Kansas City has the Chiefs in the NFL, and the Royals of MLB) and the other issue that may or may not be a mitigating one (depends on what reports you read) is that the NHL was already in Kansas City (the Scouts) and it lasted only a couple of years and the team struggled to get attendance and fans, so they moved to Colorado and rebranded as the Rockies. The Rockies eventually moved to New Jersey and became known as the Devils (www.nhl.com). So much has changed economically and demographically since the time of the Scouts that I think it is an unfair comparison to hold against Kansas City at this point. This city has a solid bid and the NHL brass will have to determine if it is worthy of a team when comparing all the variables as compared to the rest of the cities on this list.

 

The Future

 

The unique aspect about the NHL part of this series on sports expansion is that the league intends to expand. The other leagues talk about expansion as an eventual thing if all goes well, other leagues like the NBA only want to expand by one or two teams to avoid splitting revenue dollars further.

 

The NHL is fairly aggressive in their expansion goals. They have talked at media events in the past about expanding within certain time frames. This list is a very viable list of cities that could very well be hosting an NHL team in the next three to five years.

 

In the event that the reports are true and Seattle and Quebec City are the front runners for the two expansion spots, that would probably create a second round of expansion because of the geography and politics involved.

 

The entry of Quebec into the Eastern Conference would still leave the East with more teams, so the NHL would have to add two more teams in the Western Conference to balance the league. The relocation of one of the current teams in the East being sent to the Western Conference would be highly problematic from a political point of view.

The owners of the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets fought for years to get moved into the Eastern Conference, and now that they have moved East, then the league will be reticent about moving one of them back to balance the conference sizes.

 

If you are a hockey fan, that is exciting news, and if you are not a hockey fan, but you are a sports fan; then it could give you something else to do while on a long weekend in Las Vegas in the future.

 

The final part of my series will be up next and that is the future expansion of MLS (Major League Soccer).