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Diamonds And Dust?

By now you’ve seen the report from Tony Gallagher in The Province about NHL expansion to Vegas being “a done deal” and that by 2017 Seattle, Quebec, and a second Toronto team will have joined the league.

Let’s pull this rig over to the soft shoulder. As Wyshynski pointed out on Puck Daddy (and everything he writes from now on I’m calling “Mooney avoidance”), one of the reasons this is getting such play is it’s the end of August. We couldn’t be farther from the free agent signing extravaganza, and training camp is still a blip on the ever stretching horizon. We need something to talk about… or at least something that isn’t Baez or Soler-related (sorry Sox fans, I just can’t contain it).

There’s too many factors here I can’t accept. The first and foremost is that Vegas would work at all. There was a time, not all that long ago, when Vegas was one of the fastest growing cities in America. That time is not now. So is there enough locals to consistently fill this new building at the MGM? Also, the impression I get, and I don’t know this for sure, is that the locals, whether they work on the strip or not, don’t exactly love heading to the Strip for their entertainment. They may think that heading there to see hockey is just too big of a pain in the ass.

Look, I get it. Every fanbase around would be circling the date their team goes to Vegas as an excuse to go and gamble, eat at really nice steakhouses, and pretend to have illicit sex but chicken out. But how many fanbases will bring enough to sell that building out? Wasn’t this part of the plan in Florida and Arizona? How’s that working out? Sure, Kings and Sharks fans could probably fill it three times a year. And Hawks fans, Leafs, fans, Canucks, and most of the Eastern seaboard and Eastern Canadian teams could. But what happens when the Stars, Wild, Avs, Ducks, Coyotes, and others show up? Ducks fans can’t even fill their building with their fans for a second round series against their bitterest rival.

And if the NHL is counting on just random tourists filling the hockey rink on a nightly basis, maybe they should take a good look at the tourists that actually fill that city on weekends. Not hockey fans, I’m going to guess.

I get it there’s some prestige in being the only professional sports franchise in the area. That has worked on some level in Carolina. But it hasn’t in other areas, or one’s where the hockey team mostly has the floor to themselves for the winter. Nashville, St. Louis, Tampa, Columbus, Buffalo all don’t share their market’s winter with an NBA team. Most of them have had attendance issues lately, and it wasn’t all that long ago that there was a real question if Pittsburgh or Buffalo would even survive, as silly as that seems now. Exclusivity is no guarantee of success.

That said, the exclusivity factor is one reason they should be bending over backwards to get into Seattle before an NBA team does. Seattle is a big and growing market, has already demonstrated a fervent passion for sports, and a hockey team would have a window between October and March (with the Seahawks on Sundays) before the Sounders start up to establish a following (yes, considering the Sounders draw 40K per game you do have to consider them a factor). Seattle is much bigger than Vegas and not dependent on tourists to support a team.

Quebec and a second Toronto team make too much sense too. Especially the second Toronto team. This is a city as big as Chicago that only thinks about hockey (sorry, Argos and Raptors). If Chicago can support two baseball teams, Toronto can support two hockey teams in a breeze.

That said, and this is just my Euro-snob, footy loving ways, but at what point does a league become simply too big? I think the NHL could probably handle expansion to 32, barely. But 34? No league should aim to be bigger than the NFL. And it’ll be long after I’m dead, but the call of expansion fees will always be a siren song to owners. When is it too much? 34? 36? 40? At some point, wouldn’t you have to have two divisions? Promotion and relegation? It sounds completely ridiculous, but maybe not.

32 teams actually breaks down perfectly into a 76-game schedule, where you play everyone in your division four times and everyone else twice, not that the NHL would ever shrink the schedule. But the math gets harder the bigger you get.

Anyway a fun August discussion.

  • High and Wide

    “This is a city as big as Chicago that only thinks about hockey (sorry, Argos and Raptors).”
    It hurts that you didn’t even mention the Jays. It’s probably for the best, though.

  • AirTrafficAJ

    I’m actually leaving for Vegas tonight. I will consider this a fact-finding mission, and should be reimbursed by TCI accordingly.

    • duncans peace pipe

      strap it up and hunker down

  • Bobby Otter

    Love the Seattle decision. Like the Quebec decision, though that’s not a big town and the Habs are so big so wonder if they run into issues down the line, especially if the Loonie tanks. I’m interested to see what the deal is for Leafs to accept that second team. As for Vegas, blah, add them to the Florida/Phoenix/Anaheim/Nashville/Tampa pile of teams that I feel could move any second (assuming the Isles are going to be fine moving to Brooklyn, though I guess Jersey isn’t as safe as we probably assume).

    But I gotta wonder if they’re expanding to keep the Florida/Phoenix/Anaheim/Nashville/Tampa group alive. Basically, are those five or six teams so hard up for cash that they need the expansion fees to stay afloat? Is that’s what’s really going on here? Expand to 34 to keep 6 teams from having to move for a decade?

    As for Baez/Soler… whatever. Abreu over both of them. The Baez lovefest is like the Fukudome lovefest all over again (like Soler and Bryant and Russell though).

  • jordyhawk

    The mindset of business seems always to be to expand and seldom to consolidate so there is that to consider especially when thing don’t appear to make complete sense. Toronto and Quebec will both work because the demand is already there. I guess you could argue that Vegas and Seattle don’t have basketball so they are ripe for the picking. The Seattle bid is actually driven by a Vancouver guy which tells you something. Even if Vegas succeeds, if Lake Mead continues to dry out they could run short of water to make ice. I guess they could plainview some from the local acquifer.

  • HossasPierogi

    So Toronto 2 over Hamilton? Interesting. Would feel better about the whole deal if they were purging Southern teams. Vegas seems a mismatch.

    • Planck Hate

      I sort of understand the relentless urge to deprive fans in the sun belt of their teams when it comes from Canadian fans. (After all, hockey snobbishness is about as close to jingoism as they come.) I’ll never understand it from anyone else.

      • HossasPierogi

        I unfairly categorized the teams that should be purged as Southern teams. If a Southern team fills the seats (LA for example), I’m all for a team there, and it’s great for fans there. But if I team can’t make it financially, it drags the entire league down. Bettman’s expansion ventures into southern markets have been largely a failure up to now — that can’t be denied. http://www.forbes.com/nhl-valuations/#page:3_sort:0_direction:asc_search:

        • Planck Hate

          I certainly understand this, however I think that developing a fanbase for any sport in a new/non-traditional market needs to be looked at as a long-term investment. Its entirely reasonable to expect to take a generation (or more depending on market size, competition for entertainment $). The Kings are only now really starting to become a force in LA. Hopefully other markets will take less time. The league investing in broadening it’s base (though revenue sharing to non-traditionally situated teams) will hopefully pay dividends in the long run by growing the game and eventually turning non-traditional markets into traditional markets.

          It takes patience and there will be a need to cut bait from time to time (Atlanta), but I think that the “Southern Strategy” is a long game, that while it has a long way to go is trending in the right direction.

    • To Saad be the glory

      the scuttlebutt on the TSN website comments section following the expansion article there was that Hamilton cant even sell out the ahl games,let alone think about an nhl team.

    • To Saad be the glory

      Thing I don’t understand is why the Panthers are always considered the willing “pack ‘em up and move ‘em” team when it comes to any expansion/relocation talk. If I remember correctly,the Panthers can actually draw when they put a product on the ice that’s worth a shit. As far as Vegas goes, if it happens, Bettman is an even bigger dumbass that I could ever imagine. That’s saying a lot after the ongoing Phoenix fiasco.

      • Black JEM

        Miami is, has been, and always will be a terrible pro sports town. Orlando would be a significantly better place for the second NHL franchise in the state though I am sure the Lightning might have some concerns about it.

    • Joe Banks

      How about the Mississauga Maples?

  • Brain Sprain

    Personally, i think Vegas is a terrible place for an NHL Team. My goodness, their ECHL team is on hiatus!

    Toronto feels dirty to me. Like when former mayor Daley was running his yap about trying to build an NFL stadium on the west side for an expansion AFC Team. I just feel it won’t happen for some reason.

    As for 2 baseball teams in Chicago, that is historic from when baseball was truly America’s past time. The Sox have had attendence issues for 2 decades. (I’m a Sox fan).

    I think Seattle is ripe and QC is a no brainer, but get ready for the same old stories about language and taxes.

    I think the league should be 32 teams maximum. But hey, wtf do I know? Nothing.

    PS: wolves schedule is out today for those of us that can’t afford to take their children to Blackhawk games.

    • VegasHawksFan

      ECHL= apples, NHL=oranges. A couple years ago when the Wranglers were a good team, they had decent crowds. Last year when they weren’t that good, not so much. Not sure this comparison has much validity.

      • Brain Sprain

        Hockey = Hockey for locals. For tourists of course it’s about the start power. But can tourists fill the void of zero base?

    • To Saad be the glory

      Icehogs play Wolves 12 times this year. Guess I’m hoping TT starts the year out in the A since the rink is only a few minutes from my house. Good year to go to more than 2 games for once. Plus Leighton!!! lol

      • Joe Banks

        Are the Wolves going to charge Icehog fans double for tickets?

      • Brain Sprain

        You read my mind on TT. Leighton? Not so much.

        • To Saad be the glory

          I meant Leighton as a joke actually. Granted its the AHL,but id like to see a little more stability in the Hogs goaltending situation. Doesn’t seem like the Hawks have anyone they really care for,which is kinda scary if Crow goes toes up and/or Raanta doesnt work out.

  • Hags

    I really wish the NHL would do this thing the right way and do a combination of expansion and relocation to go to 32 teams, instead of outright expansion to push the league to 34. Toronto #2 and Seattle could be your expansion teams in the West, along with relocating the ‘Yotes to Vegas. Move the Panthers to Quebec and that sounds like a pretty stable league financially. They would still garner half the payday from expansion fees (it was projected at 1.4 billion, so lets call it $700 Million instead) and getting 2 of their most financially troubled teams to better destinations where they could prosper.
    It also doesn’t dilute the talent pool as drastically as adding 4 more expansion teams would, and it also would even out league with 16 teams in each conference.

    • Black JEM

      Would prefer KC to Vegas – Vegas is still really chewing up the housing fiasco and lots of lower paid people there – the casinos aren’t paying the biggest bucks.

      • Hags

        I honestly don’t know enough about KC as a hockey market other than that it has a shiny new building and no full time tenant.

        • Björn

          The fact that I relocated to KC in the last 3 years would probably skew this, because my desire to not have to drive 4 hours and go to see River Scum play the Hawks. I’d also probably die of heart failure if KC was chosen. But there used to be a minor league (AHL I believe) team in town that had a really big following, and there’s also a minor league team in a suburb of the city that is very well known.
          I feel like, when compared to Vegas at least, it would have a better time gaining traction in KC. Especially since this town is actually quite sports friendly. Sporting KC is an amazing team, the Royals are doing well, and the Chiefs are a lot like the Bears, always tantalizing, but never very substantial. People go bananas out here.
          There’s also a lot more potential for growth. KC is growing substantially in the startups and small business that it runs. We actually are getting Google Fiber. KC is definitely on the uptick.

        • YoAdrienne

          Three words: Kansas City Scouts.

          They lasted two seasons there before they ultimately became the New Jersey Devils. Times are different now. They won’t have the WHA as competition for quality players, and the economy is a bit different than it was back in the mid-70s. I’m sure the population (potential fan pool) is larger, so it’s possible they could make a go of it the second time around. There are probably quite a few River Scum and Avalanche fans there, but I could see at least some of them deciding that they’re tired of having their hearts broken by the River Scum. It might work.

          If they’re going to expand, I’d rather see KC than Las Vegas.

  • 334Rules

    I’ve been agitating for a 32-team league since the last schedule shake-up. I should probably give it up, but as noted in my comments to the Morning Links, it just makes too much sense – which means the NHL will utterly ignore it.

  • BrandonPirri

    For what it’s worth, Chicagoland is about 2x the size of the Greater Toronto Area.

    • YoAdrienne

      The Cubs and White Sox are also in different leagues. I suspect that may also have something to do with the city being able to support two baseball teams. I don’t see many Leafs fans giving up their support in favor of a new team.

      • BrandonPirri

        It’s not about the Leafs, it’s about the GTA projected to gain 2 million people in the next 10 years. Their main fan base will be transplants that hate the Leafs. No different than the LA Clippers’ fan base being transplants that hate the Lakers.

        • M7

          I agree. There’s at least a couple million fans in the GTA that would support another team just to stick it to the Leafs (and more coming).

      • birdhead

        You could do an EC and a WC team and I bet you have no problems selling out NHL hockey in Toronto. No problems at all.

    • M7

      That’s not quite accurate. Chicagoland is listed at ~9.9 million, while the GTA&H (Greater Toronto Area & Hamilton) is ~6.7 million. Breaking these numbers down further, the actual concentration of people in the GTA&H is 922/km² while Chicagoland is 509/km² – so “Toronto” people are closer to the centre.

      I know MSA and CMA etc. all have similar type criteria for establishing these values, but if you look at the Golden Horseshoe (which is basically continuous city), your talking a population of 8.8 million (albeit with a lower density). At that point you’re splitting hairs over the difference in size…

      Personally, I think a second Toronto team is an easy sell if you can get/force the Leafs into agreement.

      • BrandonPirri

        I mean, 50 percent larger is still very substantial. But you’re right, it’s splitting hairs.

  • Joe Banks

    But…. what about a team in Wisconsin?

    • OMFS88

      Could Milwaukee support a squad?

  • Matt

    I forget where I read this, but someone mentioned the fact that the southern expansion wasn’t so much about the markets they’re going into and the fanbases there as it was about getting a national presence for TV advertising contracts. If that’s the context, it makes a lot more sense to me.

    In regards to 32 teams vs. 34, yeah, 32 is a much cleaner number and there are certainly teams that could easily move (save the point above), but it’s not exactly like the other big sports in the U.S. Canada is a huge presence with hockey, obviously, and that’s a pretty basic extra footprint to add teams. If hockey really became a big, well-loved sport here (admittedly a big “if”), I could reasonably see a 40 team league.

    The only two with this higher franchise ceiling, to me, are hockey and soccer. Canada doesn’t love basketball, baseball, or football in the same way.

  • VegasHawksFan

    I moved here to vegas from Chicago in May of 2010. To some of the points raised, I would agree that locals do not spend much time on strip gambling or eating ridiculously overpriced and bland food. But to be fair, it’s not like the United Center is any treat to get in and out of and IMO, were it not for the Bulls, I still think everything between the loop and the UC would still be a mess.

    Under the surface, I don’t think people really have a solid grasp of how much of a hockey market there is here. People from Canada don’t just visit here, they own homes here and spend a lot of time in winter here. When I play pickup hockey at our shitty rink that makes park district ice look good, I hear as much French as I do East Coast accents. We also have an enormous amount of tournaments here from fat guy beer leagues to very skilled Canadian kids, to USHL. While I would agree the vast swarms of tattooed types with lift kit pickups and truck nuts will not be plunking down 30-50 bucks a seat for professional hockey, I don’t think the also vast number of professionals who live here can be discounted simply because the strip is a pain the ass to get in and out of.

    At the moment, MGM is building a 20k seat arena with or without a publicly disclosed agreement, so that’s one hurdle jumped. When it comes to sponsorship, I have to believe that sky boxes and plenty of good seats will be bought by casinos to give to high rollers and whether the seats are filled or not, they will still be paid for. Lastly, when I think of people like Celine Dion selling out night after night, along with multiple other shows, I’m not sure I buy an argument that tourist support won’t be anything substantial. I well remember how empty the stadium was when the Hawks sucked. Having a good team cures a lot of problems. Given the money available here and rumors that a guy like Bruckheimer wants to be involved, I think Vegas has a lot reasons to be considered. I don’t think it’s a great place to live, but it’s already becoming a place where more than few NHL’s show up in summer to train and hang out. While I would love to see NHL hockey, I’d be just as happy for the spin off effect that having a team here would have on developing kids programs.

  • Bob Lanz

    I just got back from portland and Seattle. Seattle soccer outdrew the mariners whitesox game I attended. Ya I know fuck off cub fans! But the mariners are in a playoff hunt for a wild card and the soccer fandom was boisterous . I think they would embrace hockey and fervently so! Seattle is a great city and now that they are minus an nba franchise is perfect timing. Look at the built in rivalry with Vancouver only a few hours north.

  • Bannerman

    4 new teams is potentially 90 players that otherwise would not be in the NHL. Such an expansion runs the risk of diluting the product to the point where it could take years to recover.

  • ProgMichael

    Not sure about Toronto. I get they want to tap into the growing demographics, but really, would you put another NFL team in Chicago? Which jamochs would abandon the Bears for the expansion team. Why not put an NHL franchise in Hamilton? You can still draw from the Toronto market and give one of the largest cities in the NHL their own franchise (instead of trying to split up Toronto’s fan base – aren’t hockey fans in Toronto already Leafs fans?).

    Otherwise, spot on re: Vegas and Seattle.