We all remember last year when the possibility of a return to Winnipeg seemed more real than ever. That possibility became a reality when True North Sports purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, moved them to Manitoba and christened them the new Jets. Could the same be happening in Quebec?
According to TSN.ca and other news outlets, a deal has been finalized by Quebec City and media company Quebecor to construct a $400 million arena that could hold about 18,000 people in time for September 2015. As part of the agreement, if the media conglomerate is able to purchase a NHL franchise to call the new arena home, it would pay $63.5 million for naming rights to the arena, plus $5 million annually in rent. The agreement would also give the company exclusive rights to manage the arena.
If Quebecor is unable to purchase a franchise, it would pay $33 million for naming rights and about $3.15 annually in rent.
“There are no more obstacles…no more uncertainty about the construction of the amphitheater,” said Pierre Karl, CEO of Quebecor, at a news conference announcing the agreement.
Quebec has been without an NHL franchise since 1995, when the Nordiques relocated to Colorado to become the Avalanche.
With an arena on the way, the focus now shifts to finding a team to be its biggest tenant. In the cross hairs of perspective owners are the Phoenix Coyotes and the New York Islanders.
The Coyotes, who have been owned by the League since 2009, were believed to be the organization moving back to Winnipeg last season. Although rumors of potential owners willing to keep the team in Glendale have surfaced, nothing has come to fruition.
A prospective owner does not seem to be out there for the League, and time is running short. According to a report by The Sporting News via Darren Dreger of TSN, the league could begin looking at relocation options as early as this week. Among some of the possible destinations is Quebec.
The timing of the arena in Quebec coincides with the conclusion of a lease between the Islanders and Nassau County’s Nassau Coliseum. Owner Charles Wang has been unsuccessful with several attempts to keep the team on Long Island through his Light House project and last summer’s referendum for the county to help fund a new arena.
Though he hasn’t made serious claims about relocation, Wang has said his team won’t stay a day past the expiration of the lease. He’s lost millions of dollars of the years and could be willing to sell the franchise he’s owned since 2000.
Wang has set a soft deadline for something to happen in Nassau for this summer, which would allow construction to be completed before the team’s current lease expires. Few options remain on Long Island if Nassau — which is essentially bankrupt — is unable to come to an agreement to build a new arena, while neighboring Suffolk County is equally as cash strapped.
An arena in Nassau’s other neighbor, Queens, has been discussed as well, but nothing substantial. The best opportunity in New York appears to be in Brooklyn at the Barclay’s Center, the future home of the Brooklyn Nets. The problem, though, is the arena would hold about 14,000 for hockey, which is too small.
Like True North in Manitoba, Quebecor has the funds necessary to purchase either franchise and cover the re-location fee required by the league to make the move official.
Quebec is not alone in trying to acquire a franchise to call its arena home. Seattle, Kansas City and even Las Vegas have been linked to wanting to purchase franchises. Quebec’s history of losing its franchise shouldn’t play against it due to the success of the Jets this season.
Though two relocations in as many years reflects poorly on a League still trying to find its place in the sports universe nearly eight years after a work stoppage, the League can no longer fund the Coyotes. Something must and will be done.