January 27, 2009

Economic Hard Times Good For Hockey Fans?

I enjoyed Roy MacGregor's Globe and Mail column, as always, yesterday:

If today's undeniable recession becomes, as some pessimists are predicting, tomorrow's Second Great Depression, it is worth remembering what the last great financial choke did to the NHL's breathing.

Philadelphia had to give up its franchise in the early 1930s. Ottawa withdrew for a season, then came back and moved to St. Louis to play as the Eagles before collapsing in the mid-1930s. The Montreal Maroons withdrew in June of 1938. The New York Americans survived the Dirty Thirties but had to be taken over by the league just before the team's demise following the 1941-42 season.

That, incidentally, left the Original Six teams – Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Chicago and Detroit.

To many, the glory years of hockey.

Sometimes a market correction isn't necessarily a bad thing.

When it comes to the world economic crisis and it's impact on the National Hockey League, there seems to be two generally agreed upon truths.

1. The Phoenix Coyotes are on the verge of bankruptcy, while Nashville, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Florida, and perhaps others, have serious financial concerns.

2. Because most sponsorship, television and ticket monies were collected before the world's stock markets collapsed, the world economic crisis will not really be felt by the NHL until next season.

That is bad news for the NHL, and the aforementioned troubled franchises in particular.

Contraction is every fan's dream. Get rid of some weak teams, have an exciting dispersal draft, and see a better product with deeper and better teams all around compared to the bloated league we have now. But Bettman will never allow this to happen to his legacy.

And, even though teams like Toronto and New York Rangers would not mind, buying back 4 franchises and closing up shop would cost somewhere around $200 million per team, or $800 million altogether. That's a hard sell, especially in this market. A tough sell even to the NHL's billionaire owners who, via revenue sharing and propping the Coyotes up completely, are currently giving away as much as $100 million a season to weak franchises and getting nothing in return.

Instead we are likely to series of relocations, and, in the case of Phoenix, possibly a franchise failure. None of which can be great for Gary Bettman's legacy. After all, he was behind placing teams in these weak hockey markets. Yet, as discussed before, Bettman seems to have learned nothing and seems hell bent on shackling hockey with more sunbelt teams, likely Kansas City and possibly Las Vegas.

How is that good for hockey?


Dirk Hoag said...

Contraction is every fan's dream.

Whoa, Joe, slow yourself down there. Contraction is hardly "every fan's dream". Contraction for the purpose of somehow improving the depth in talent on NHL rosters is a non-starter, as it has absolutely nothing positive to offer the business of the NHL.

While plenty of traditionalists pine for the days of the Original Six, the simple fact is that the NHL doesn't lose any of those hard-core fans by having teams in non-traditional markets. They may grumble, but they still tune in.

Martin ITFOR said...

I think it can be good to bring teams up north, but the problem is that there would be no moving over here in Canada... I think Halifax, Quebec, Winnipeg and maybe Hamilton deserve to get teams more than any other city in the US... I think Bettman would never allow a US team to move over here in Canada...

Joe Pelletier said...

You raise an excellent point Forechecker. "Every fan's dream" is a very Canadian-centric comment. It definitely should be noted that there are good hockey fans in bad hockey markets. The Forechecker is the prime example of this.