Kukla's Korner Hockey

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Expansion fervor outpaces economic realities, especially in Las Vegas

08/27/2014 at 12:44am EDT

I (hi, it's George) was going to leave this one for the morning and the boss to deal with, but I'm captain cold bucket of water during non-charitable-challenge time, so here goes:

As Paul noted, the Vancouver Province's Tony Gallagher insists that the NHL expanding to Las Vegas is a "done deal," even if there is no NHL-serviceable rink there as of yet (the Fourth Period's David Pagnotta will fill you in on the inevitability of expansion sooner than later and AEG and MGM Casinos' soon-to-be-built sports facility on the Vegas Strp), even though the Las Vegas Wranglers have folded for the time being and even though three intrepid scribes from the Las Vegas Sun have pointed out that Las Vegas' population (approximate "metro area" of 1.9 million people), TV ratings (or the lack thereof), population working nontraditional hours and the whole Vegas-is-still-recovering-from-the-recession thing all stand as very real roadblocks to any professional sports franchise thriving, for the present moment or any time soon in Vegas.

Then Sports Illustrated's wire posts this:

Apparently Las Vegas isn't the only city adding a National Hockey League expansion team: Seattle, Toronto and Quebec City will add NHL franchises as well with by a target date of 2017, according to a tweet from SportsBusinessNews' Howard Bloom.

Bloom said the four-fold expansion, which would increase the number of NHL teams to 34 and the number of Canadian team to nine, could raise $1.4 billion in expansion fees.

To which I respond, in my most serious pretend hockey writer voice:

Look, folks, we all know that the NHL would like to expand soon, and we all know that the soon-to-be built rink in Quebec City (metropolitan area population of around 700,000) is a reality, that this Vegas rink-and-or-sports-facility is being built, we know that there's a pro sports team-worthy facility operated by AEG (AEG = Anschutz Entertainment Group = who own the Kings) in Kansas City, and we know that there are all sorts of rumors of Wayne Gretzky possibly being involved in a group of investors who possibly want to build a multi-sport facility in Seattle.

We also know that there's going to be an arena in Markham, ON that should be able to host an NHL team should the NHL's only billion-dollar franchise choose to relinquish its chokehold on the Greater Toronto Area (which is less likely than you'd think).

But all of these facilities being there hasn't convinced the NHL to come running any more than the presence of billionaires and an NHL-capable facility existing already in Atlanta have convinced the NHL that Atlanta somehow needs, deserves or otherwise merits an NHL team because the population, TV ratings and existence of a facility would suggest that it's possible for a team to turn a profit in Hotlanta, should a remotely, marginally competent and only semi-dysfunctional ownership group be recruited.

This kind of chatter is swell on August 26th and 27th and all, but it's not based upon verifiable facts nor a tangible expansion plan.

Those who say, "Well it has to happen, the conferences aren't balanced" haven't watched the league not give a rat's butt about that issue for the past two years.

Those who say, "But Vegas!" ignore the fact that Las Vegas' unemployment rate (as several TMR/KK readers have pointed out) is still at a pre-recession level, or that Las Vegas is just staggering back to its feet economically. Even Jerry Bruckheimer knows this.

Those who say, "But, sources!" need to remember that we go through this song and dance every summer, and by November, we find out that whichever "shaky economics" NHL team (see: rink debt issues + ticket issues = Islanders, Devils, Panthers, Coyotes, sometimes Nashville or Anaheim, depending on the year) is in trouble is in fact in trouble again, and we find out that Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the NHL's Board of Governors does not in fact want to expand to another market which will be receiving instead of writing revenue-sharing checks on a yearly basis...

And all of this either becomes tangible, or, 9 times out of 10, it becomes summer fluffernutter.

Would the NHL like to expand--sooner than later? Hell yes.

Would the NHL like to eventually balance its conferences? Presumably.

Would the NHL's owners LOVE to gobble up those expansion fees, which they don't have to (as of yet) share with the NHLPA? You'd better believe it.

Are there extant roadblocks between dreams of an NHL expanding to anywhere between 32 and 36 teams and doing so making actual business sense?

The NHL needs tangible and stable ownership groups committed to filling their rinks and selling their product to season ticket-buying fans and TV networks on a game-by-game basis to build fan-bases--even if they are transient ones in the, "Let's all root for whatever road team is there via a fun road trip to Vegas!" ones--and economically-vibrant franchises.

Desire to expand and empty buildings doesn't equal a master plan, especially in Gary Bettman's NHL (to his credit, for once).

Until someone can come up with some tangible evidence instead of "sources say," I will remain unconvinced, and I believe I speak for the larger KK family here when saying, "I call. Are you bluffing?"

And you're welcome for the visual aids.

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About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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