With the inevitable announcement that the Atlanta Thrashers have been purchased by True North Holdings, Canada is finally ‘getting back’ an NHL team. True North Holdings is backed by David Thomson, who became a billionaire by inventing business news. It is interesting to note that the Joe Johnson trade which brought the Atlanta ownership group’s conflicts to a head may not have had any more to do with the initial rift than disagreement over the hockey team. The former governor of the ownership group Atlanta Spirit LLC Steven Belkin seems to have felt that the Thrashers made Philips Arena more profitable, whereas new governor Michael Gearon Jr. will bet on filling the vacated arena dates with monster trucks and concerts. If you’re keeping score at home, it appears that Belkin was totally wrong about both the Thrashers and Joe Johnson.
Anyway, Gary Bettman will presumably be announcing his resignation over the weekend, having proven himself incompetent by repeating history. The next big announcement will be the old team’s new name. Below are humbly offered my dozen sincerest suggestions.
Toronto must be a nearly perfect city. Nearly perfect, except for its lack of an NFL team to call its own. Otherwise, why would a Toronto city councilor, and brother to the mayor, be sounding off about bringing in a franchise? Surely if there were issues related to crime, or the economy, or social services, they would take precedence over a second professional football team. Wouldn’t they?
Unfortunately for the mayor’s brother, and the mayor’s brother’s brother, Toronto is not getting an NFL team. Not unless the Bills count, and in a certain sense Toronto already has them, and has since the previous mayor signed a 5 year deal. That’s as far as it goes though. This year, next year, and every year for the foreseeable future (go ahead and read that as ‘ten years minimum’). Some people argue otherwise, but they are simply ignorant, as shown below.
The mayor’s brother’s plan involves either a new stadium built without public money, along with (get this) a monorail. Don’t worry though, he has a backup plan, which involves simply dynamiting another few hundred feet out of the bottom of the Skydome (which he keeps calling the ‘Rogers Centre’) to add over ten thousand seats. The number he mentions would make the stadium smaller than most current league stadiums. Again, he does not offer city funds, just hilarious suggestions.
The coup de grace for this round of nonsense is the suggestion that the Jaguars and Saints might be moved, while neither is for sale. Sometimes teams are not for sale but in fact they actually may be for sale, if you know what I mean. The Saints and Jaguars are just not for sale. Ford has already apologized to a newspaper in Louisiana for even daring to suggest that such a move was possible.
There are a lot of other barriers to an NFL team being owned and operated outside of the U.S.A. In Toronto, no known buyer exists. The internet peanut gallery’s favorite suggestion is media giant Rogers, but as a corporation Rogers is not eligible, according to league rules, to own a team. The other main barriers, aside from no team, no stadium and no owner, are differences in the tax code and advertising considerations, which are referred to here and here. Of course the show stopper is that Toronto’s little audition with the NFL has gone poorly.
In conclusion, Toronto is perfect now, except for its lack of an NFL team, which it can never have. Also, the Leafs. Oh, and–
Jets ’95-’96 11,300 / 1.37 = 8,248 equivalent fans in us dollars
Coyotes ’96-’97 15,200 * 1.375 = 20,900
Coyotes ’09-’10 12,000 / 1.08 = 11,111
Nordiques early ‘90s 14,300 / 1.25 = 11,440
Avalanche ’99-’00 (new arena) 18,000 * 1.485 = 26,730
Avalanche late ‘aughts 15,900 / 1.05 = 15,142
*= max capacity
Look like a bell-curve; doesn’t it? Yup. It’s a couple’a good ol’ fashioned bell curves. If you asked a person who was brilliant with math and economics but new nothing about hockey what would they tell you? The future.
It is easy to sympathize with cities losing their hockey teams to cities which have tenuous histories with big league hockey. Even before Atlanta was given its second kick at the National Hockey League can (tallboy, obviously), traditionally strong hockey areas felt ripped off, but a lot of blame was placed on the dollar, and I can’t find a quote but I’m sure that included by people within the organizations. This must have seemed less plausible to people in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, where teams made money even in the worst of times. As some of the variables have changed since the NHL relocations and expansions of the mid nineties, we can see that the dollar really was temporarily screwing some teams, and we can draw some pretty solid conclusions about what will happen over the near future to some of the league’s more troubled organizations.
All things are not equal, of course. Addressing the NHL’s consistent inability to garner television network coverage like that of the NBA, NFL or MLB has long seemed a top priority of the commissioner’s office. Perhaps it was thought that truly national coverage by the league, geographically, was the greatest, or even the only hurdle to achieving the desired television coverage. We now know at least the latter to be untrue. The league is all over the south now, but coverage continues to mostly consist of Sunday afternoons. Is this a problem? I certainly don’t care. Some of the league’s southern teams, however, will depend on that revenue and publicity, even if they don’t already. Of course, the ones which are making money are also losing money.
This issue appears to me to be related to the headshots issue, which is related to the brawl issue, but that is a matter for another day. The current concern is how this seeming legacy-building project on the part of Bettman and Co. is effecting the ability of hockey crazed Winnipegers and Hartford . . . um . . .ers to enjoy top level hockey. This is where the numbers up top come in. It is certainly plausible that the NHL people who let ‘market forces’ move teams South never expected the Loonie to rise above the value of the American dollar, but if so that would simply indicate another way in which NHL brass have failed to plan effectively for the future. The cold, hard numbers suggest that both the Jets and Nordiques would make enough from their home gate to be not just solvent, but economically competitive, now that the exchange rate has changed. But is the home gate what matters?
Now we return, full circle, to the question of whether a lucrative American network television deal is a) realistic, and b) worth changing the criteria for what makes a city worthy of the honour of being an NHL franchises’ home. If not for the striking clarity with which question a) has been answered negatively, question b) might be an interesting conundrum. As it is it is irrelevant. Nashville and Tampa and Dallas got teams, and the games showed up nationally in the USA on the Outdoor Life Network or not at all.
The sad fact of the matter is that when those articles appeared explaining the mechanics of the Fox puck, the success of the great NHL foray into Confederate territory peaked. Now that it has waned, franchises like Florida and Atlanta are guaranteed money pits, the Coyotes are owned by the league (what does this even mean? Post coming soon. . .), and the Avalanche may as well be in Quebec. If you agree, I will signal you when to write the NHL asking that I be made commissioner, during the upcoming hockey ‘labour dispute.’
PS. I personally consider every team below 80% capacity on this list in danger of moving or folding. Long term. You know.