Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sun-Belt Teams vs. Canada

During a conversation while I was at the game last night, the topic of the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, which has been making more headlines than the playoffs itself, came up. I find this one to be interesting, but in the end, the court battle of Balsillie, Moyes and the Phoenix Coyotes will have to play itself out, and ultimately it will be up to a judge to decide if Moyes has the authority to declare bankruptcy and attempt to sell the team.

The other recent headlines that have been making the rounds is that a Vancouver based hockey group and has an interest in purchasing the Atlanta Thrashers and moving them. The Vancouver based group, thought to be led by Tom Gaglardi attempted to purchase the Canucks 5 years ago, and has since been in court with the Aquilini Group about the sale of the Canucks that ultimately went to the Aquilini Group. The Thrashers' ownership group has been also locked in a court battle between themselves over the right to buy out certain investors in their group. Since the Gaglardi group lost their last appeal in court, it seems natural that they would look to another franchise that would possibly for sale. The Thrashers are tied to the basketball team there though, so I don't know if this one is any more than 'interest' by the group.

There is a lot of opinion out there that it is Canadians who have something against the franchises in warm climates or the fans of these franchises. I think that the situation is a little misunderstood.

1. If you were a fan of the Winnipeg Jets when they were relocated to Phoenix, a move made by Gary Bettman, it would anger you when you see the effort that Bettman is making to try to have the team be a success in Phoenix. Jets fans have said that Bettman did not go to the lengths to try have the Jets be successful in Winnipeg, like he is doing for the Phoenix Coyotes. There was also no revenue sharing and no salary cap back in Winnipeg.

2. Canadian fans feel that there is a market demand for another hockey team, especially in southern Ontario. This is an issue that won't go away anytime soon until it is addressed.

Damien Cox from the Toronto Star has written a good piece on this here.

The season ticket holder wait list for Leafs' tickets is 10-15 years long. There are families with children that play hockey, or grow up loving the Leafs' that will never be able to watch their team at the ACC because there are no tickets available..

Now this is not a sob story about Toronto kids not being able to watch hockey, because other than the Leafs there are also great junior hockey in the OHL or AHL teams that can be watched. If all the current teams were successful franchises, fans in Ontario would still be pushing for another team in Ontario due to the demand. It is from the reports of huge financial loss that has been published about Phoenix is why the suggestion of moving the team from Phoenix to a city like Hamilton would make fiscal sense.

The idea of putting a team in Phoenix may have been with merit. Compared to Winnipeg, the city population to draw from is larger and with a league with increasing player salaries, no salary cap, no revenue sharing and a poorly designed building capacity, Winnipeg was ultimately not able to support the team. With lots of Canadian transplants into Phoenix, a new building and a quickly growing population, Phoenix may very well have been a good idea. Especially as the NHL tries to "grow" the sport. But from the monetary loss that has been reported about the Coyotes, so far it hasn't worked in Phoenix.

In order for all of this "insert poorly performing sunbelt team" to Hamilton talk to end, what Bettman needs to do is one of two things. He needs to either look into the option of southern Ontario and decides that it is a place that he would like to move a team to, or address the Canadian fans in Southern Ontario why putting a team in their city is not a good idea.

Rising salary caps I find will only feed the disparity between teams and their success economically. With such a high cap set right now it costs and incredible amount just for the teams to break even. Some teams are relying on their post season success to pay off their payroll because of how close to the cap they have spent.

Certain owners have bought teams on loans from lenders, ie. the Lightning, so that even if you were to begin to be profitable, so much of the money is being paid to your interest on your debt load.

In addition, fans don't want to support a team that isn't winning. Now if you are the Thrashers and look like you keep taking steps back in your progress of building a better product, or the Coyotes, who failed to show an improvement towards making the post season, fans don't want to pay to see your on ice product. Very few teams can be successful if their on ice product is terrible.

I hate to read people saying that the fans in Phoenix, or Atlanta or Tampa aren't "fan enough" and they don't deserve a team. The NHL has been able to have fans support the teams and the sport in those cities that in some years have put forth terrible product to watch. I have spoken to many knowledgeable people in cities that are non traditional markets and they know their hockey. Moving a team is not about the fans. The NHL is a business, and if a relocation is required, it will because the city wasn't profitable.

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