Jun 4, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a press conference before game one of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Expansion: The $250 Million Dollar Question

Nothing gets hockey fans talking like NHL expansion.  Since realignment to uneven conferences became a reality this year every corner of the hockey media are asking when expansion will be happening.  During Commissioner Gary Bettman’s State of the League address before game one of the Stanley Cup finals he said “We’re not planning on expanding. We’re not in an expansion mode or formal expansion process. We listen when people say, ‘We’d like to come visit you and tell you why we’re interested and where we’re interested.”

Well, “where” are people interested?  That is the “$250 million dollar question.” (projected NHL expansion fee) This is the top five places that could host a team within the next three years, in time for the 100th anniversary of the league.

5.  Seattle

The greater metropolitan area has a population of over three and half million people.  The city is home to some of the most recognizable companies in the world such as Starbucks and Microsoft.  If you do a Google search of Seattle and NHL expansion it would show that it is the most popular choice right now.  The money is reportedly there as many ownership groups have been tied to this market.  The fan base seems strong as there is a strong contingent of hockey fans who have latched onto minor league hockey and have had to adopt the Canucks as their “hometown” team (poor folks).

” We’re not planning on expanding. We’re not in an expansion mode or formal expansion process. We listen when people say, ‘We’d like to come visit you and tell you why we’re interested and where we’re interested.”-Gary Bettman

The main problem is this, where do they play?  There is a plan that has been agreed to for Chris Hansen to build an arena in Seattle for an NBA franchise.  Here is the problem though, that deal does not roll out without an NBA team.  The entire deal would have to be redone with an NHL franchise.  Some will ask why this seemingly perfect city for expansion is so low on this list.  It’s because waiting for the NBA to make a move is a poor plan for NHL expansion.  But that must be on the fast track you say, well that presents another problem.  What NHL franchise wants to start out in the shadow of the return of the beloved Sonics?  Can you imagine the NBA expanding into Winnipeg when the Jets returned?  Sounds like a way to set your team and marketing back years before you have even started.

4.  Kansas City

Like most of the teams on this list Kansas City also has a hockey history, albeit a little less glorious than the others.  The Kansas City Scouts played in the NHL from 1974 to 1976 before moving to Colorado and becoming the Rockies.

The Kansas City metropolitan area has a population of over two million people.  Building KC into a hockey market would take some work, and while they would have to compete with the Kansas Jayhawks at least there is no NBA team to go head to head with for dollars and interest in the market.

The key to Kansas City is the opposite of Seattle.  The reason this city is ranked higher though is that it is easier to find an owner for a market where there is already a building, see recent ownership changes in Florida and New Jersey, then to build an arena even if you have potential owners coming out of your ears. A ready made state of the art arena that is only seven years old is a beautiful sight to the NHL.  The Sprint Center is an absolutely beautiful arena that seats 17,544.  For a long time this arena has set Kansas City as a scare tactic that has been used to manipulate their existing markets to build new facilities for their teams, sadly for Kansas City there are still three better locations for NHL expansion.

3.  Houston

Feb 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; General view of the exterior at Toyota Center before a game between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This is a city with a metropolitan area of over 6.3 million people.  It is an NHL team away from becoming the 13th city to host all four major sports leagues.  It is a massive and and untapped media market for a sport that tends to inspire local followings.  There is a great arena that would seat over 17,000 for hockey, the Toyota Center.  The city is still flush with money as a large amount of major business’ call it home.  As well as a large amatuer hocky community in the area even with their AHL team picked up and left town.  Hockey has grown in the state of Texas and it may be time to expand there.

Now let’s look at the negatives.  Yes, it is an unproven market for a professional hockey franchise, but the NHL has tried many other “unproven” markets with varying degrees of success.  If the league wants to fight tooth and nail to keep hockey in Arizona then there is no reason it shouldn’t be tried in Houston.  The other major challenge would be competing with the Rockets for eyes when the Rockets seem to be hitting their first period of real contention since the days of Hakeem “The Dream”.  But that may be a blessing in disguise as it would take a few years to build a team and stock the prospect cupboard so that hopefully once the Rockets have finished their run and start the rebuild the Houston (insert cool or retro hockey team nickname here) can be on the rise.

2.  Las Vegas

Nov 8, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; SST driver Kyle LeDuc jumps through the marquee during SST on the Strip at Caesars Palace. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas is on the smaller side of markets on this list at only 1.9 million people, but it makes up for that in several ways.  The AEG-MGM arena being built would be able to seat approximately 17,500 for hockey and will be a top flight world class facility.  Ownership would not be hard to find in this city and it would be a unique opportunity in America as Vegas is the last major city without a professional sports franchise of any kind.  In retrospect I think hockey would have had a better introduction to the southwest if it came here first as an entire generation of children in the area would have identified hockey players as the local professional sports heroes.

The objections to an NHL team here are quickly addressed.  Since the majority of the town works non-traditional hours how would they fill an arena?  First of all a lot of America works non-traditional hours yet arenas are filled quite nicely.  Second with all of the casinos looking to show high rollers a great time the highest priced tickets would always be sold.  Although it would be odd since every night a parade of visiting fans would fill the arena looking to mix their love of hockey with a brief respite from winter.

Over time the local fan base would grow just like it would anywhere else.

1.  Quebec City

Does a case even need to be made here?  The arena is being built and a hundred rich Canadians would line up to become the hero of a province.  The return of the Nordiques would resound very much the way the return of the Winnipeg Jets did.  Since 2011 it would be accurate to describe the Jets as mediocre yet they still have a waiting list on season tickets.   The Nordiques would have a very similar story.

There are those who say, well it didn’t work before why would it work now?  There are a couple of reasons.  The first is we do not anticipate the same disparity between the American and Canadian dollars that we once saw.  Secondly, and more importantly, Rodgers.  The new Canadian television deal will see each team receiving between $10 and $16.6 million dollars per year over the life of the contract as the amount escalates annually.  For some franchises that are swimming in cash this is no big deal but to smaller markets this is the difference between losing money and being able to make one more signing and still make a profit.  Also realize that with the national rights deal completely bought up by Sportsnet that TSN will break the bank to buy the regional broadcast rights for a Canadian team.

Part 2:  Next post will show how my top two teams would fit into a realigned NHL.

Tags: NHL NHL Expansion

  • Szebran

    I read on another site, the Jets income is about 18th-20th in the league. Thats not that great. I dont see them as being that stable. I dont think there will be expansion because the owners dont want to divide TV revenue any further. I think instead, Phoenix will ultimately wind up in Las Vagas and New Jersey will relocate to Seattle.

    • Raheem Farhan Bashir

      From what I heard Winnipeg more than doubled their value of the team compared to Atlanta when it was called the Thrashers. Winnipeg did a great job getting their team back, I think Winnipeg support for the NHL can be much more than approximately 15,000 per game and a reason why they should make a bigger arena. Furthermore, what is the guarantee that Las Vegas and Seattle can support or is willing to have a NHL team? Seattle is the better of the two markets (when compared to Las Vegas) but is not motivated to get a NHL team unless they get a NBA team. Las Vegas is willing to get a NHL team unlike Seattle, but there are many question marks on whether Las Vegas can support a NHL team. I agree with you that Phoenix Coyotes or what they call now the Arizona Coyotes possibility relocating to another city. I cannot see the New Jersey Devils relocating, I know they are losing lots of money, but there are other markets that are in more danger of relocating than the New Jersey Devils. For example, the Florida Panthers (which I think has a real chance of relocating just like Phoenix) are having a difficult time keeping their team and are losing huge amounts of money every day.

      • Szebran

        I mention Vegas because I have read on several sites that a team in this city would only need about 14,000 to be profitable. The writers claim the team can make up the money with high priced luxury seating. The phrase used was “the city is awash in cash”. I dont know if its true – its only what i read.

        Winnipeg doubled the value of the team compared to Atlanta doesn’t mean much. They weren’t worth much in Atlanta.

        • http://www.internatlife.wordpress.com csrima

          The city itself is the opposite of awash with cash. It got absolutely hammered by the recession. However, the Casinos might certainly be, or at least they might have high-rollers who are.

  • Cat Marie

    Houston! Would love to see that- Houston is currently the only major Texas city without some sort of hockey franchise. San Antonio has the Rampage, which are the Panthers’ AHL affiliates (ayyyyy…. move from Fla to Texas!), Austin has the Texas Stars, and Dallas has the only NHL franchise in Texas. The city has enough hockey fans, we’d welcome it.

  • Pete Franklin

    Part 2 will be where the two teams are placed in a realigned NHL If Plan A involves moving Detroit or Columbus back to the West, you better have Plan B ready to go.

  • http://www.internatlife.wordpress.com csrima

    Yeah…this sure seems to be based off of a lot of “Well this seems like it makes sense” kind of logic, as opposed to reading the tea leaves/sources.

    I’m not convinced yet that Seattle is a shoo-in, but let’s be honest, if the league is going to expand by two teams, they’ll both be out west. The league isn’t going to completely realign immediately after taking forever to align the first time, and they certainly wouldn’t want QC to play for a season in the West while they figured it out.

    The bigger issue with QC, if I’m not mistaken, is not the Canadian Dollar…it’s the fact that Quebec has separatists all over the place wanting to secede from Canada. I’m not sure the league (or any sane person) would want to deal with placing a brand new team in a spot with that much turmoil right off the bat. Plus, it just makes more sense for there to be a resolution to the Panthers situation, and relocation to QC.

    The most logical spots, in this list, in my opinion, are Seattle and either Houston/Kansas City. You could throw Vegas in that mix as well, but I just don’t see Vegas as a legit option fanbase-wise.

    With Houston having all the competition for interest, I’d go with Kansas City. Instant rivalry opportunity with St. Louis and Dallas in your division and nearby, less competition during the Winter, and an NHL-Ready arena without a major sports team in it.

    Seattle slots in nicely in the Pacific, and Kansas City is a perfect fit travel-wise in the Central. If those two come about, I’d say it’s ideal.

  • http://www.internatlife.wordpress.com csrima

    As far as the NBA to Seattle issue goes…I recently read an article that cited sources attempting to bring an NBA franchise to Louisville, and they’d come into the league with Seattle to keep the league an even number.

    The notion was that Adam Silver has said he is not looking into expansion publicly because it isn’t on the docket officially due to the Donald Sterling issues. However the article stated that the NBA would want to pursue adding Seattle and Louisville to a market study shortly in advance of the Television deal that they are getting ready to begin negotiating. So to me it sure seems like the wheels could really start turning once the NBA has its attention taken off of the Sterling fiasco.