Another team in southern Ontario is doable

The NHL as a whole would benefit from another team in the single most densely-populated, hockey-mad region in the world. (Vidioman/Wikimedia Commons)

The NHL as a whole would benefit from another team in the single most densely-populated, hockey-mad region in the world. (Vidioman/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Chris Messina

@cmessina85

It is becoming apparent that it is just a matter of time before Toronto gets a second NHL team. If Los Angeles has the Kings and the Ducks, New York has the Islanders, Rangers and Devils, why not put another team in the Greater Toronto Area? These are big markets, but they aren’t hockey first markets and Toronto is.

Whether the team comes through relocation or expansion doesn’t matter, the Golden Horse Shoe which stretches from Toronto around Lake Ontario contains 26% of Canada’s population and it is just a matter of time before another NHL team is put there. It makes too much sense not to have a team in a hockey crazy market that is so heavily populated and growing like crazy.

Right now it is looking like Markham is the GTA’s best bet with city council voted earlier this week to back help fund an NHL sized area that will house 20,000 seats and cost $350 million. That of course is a big hurdle, now the focus shifts to getting the arena built and landing a team.

Maybe Markham isn’t the ideal location for a team because it’s not in Mississauga or Hamilton; both are more central locations to where the bulk of the population is and would be a much better alternative for many of these hockey fans than driving to Buffalo or Ottawa to watch NHL games.

Getting local sponsors on board for a new franchise and selling the corporate boxes wouldn’t be a problem, not to mention all the tickets that will be bought up by fans that can’t get a hold of Leafs tickets.

The biggest hurdle many believed was the Leafs blocking another team from moving to the area, but as we learned from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, only a vote from the board of governors could do that. Even if those are the rules of the league, there will probably be a lawsuit from MLSE if this does indeed happen.

Even if there is some resistance from the Leafs, maybe it’s in their best interest to push for a second team in Toronto given who the owners of the team are. As Dave Feschuk wrote in the Toronto Star, it would be an opportunity for Bell and Rogers to cash in on broadcasting rights:

Maybe territorial protectionism isn’t what it used to be in the current broadcast-driven landscape. It has been suggested that the Leafs’ ownership should see the existence of another team as more of a business opportunity than a threat. Just as the New York Rangers, for instance, see the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders as PVR-proof content for their MSG cable-TV channels, Rogers and Bell, the dual controllers of Leafland, might see a rival franchise in one of North America’s handful of biggest markets as 82 more nights of decent ratings.

As we have seen in the past getting a franchise isn’t just about having money and building a rink, it’s about having the executives like you enough to welcome you into the old boys club. Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research in Motion, had the money but wasn’t able to go about getting a franchise the way Bettman wanted him to, in the end he didn’t get it despite offering $212.5 million to buy the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009. This of course came after he made attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.

That of course is not to suggest that this group is doing that. They are going about doing this as quietly as they could be considering the market the rink is supposed to be built in. Look at how Winnipeg got their team. The city built an arena for the American Hockey League and when the Thrashers decided they couldn’t survive in Atlanta, True North bought the team and made them the main tent in the MTS Center.

That is actually a case study example of why the league should be moving struggling American franchises back to Canada, especially in the revenue generating and sharing world that the NHL lives in. Putting a second team in Toronto is a cash cow waiting to be milked, but when you see the revenue the relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg and the money it generated for the league, it’s just stupid not to follow through with this. The move grew the franchise’s value by $30 million in a little over a year. Both the owners and players share in those increased profits making it a win-win situation.

Problem is this might hinder Bettman’s dream of landing the big US TV deal, but it’s time to move past that. What generated a tone of cash for the NFL, the MLB and the NBA just doesn’t work for the game of hockey south of the border. ESPN and Fox dropped hockey a long time ago and haven’t given any indication they are the least bit interested in picking it back up. For proof of this check out this blog post on the Sherman Report from this past spring.

In a Q & A with ESPN’s senior vice-president Vince Doria he explains why the network doesn’t have much content on Sports Center and why they dropped hockey after the last lockout.

The NHL has somewhat been saved by NBC whom they are currently locked into a decade long deal with. But none the less the way to get eye balls on your games in the states is to have teams in the big markets. That failed though.

The NHL saw what Wayne Gretzky did for hockey in Southern California when he was traded there back in 1988, but failed to realize that there is only one ‘Great One.’ Sunbelt expansion back in the 1990s put teams in Florida, Anaheim, San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix, Tampa and Nashville. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time and if it had of worked out TV would have been a great source of revenue for the league. Problem is it didn’t.

This leads us to another interesting point made on TV rating. Can you imagine what the numbers would be like regionally for the Leafs and their GTA rival? Especially after the team has settled in and dare I say it, had a bit of success. There would be two of the league’s biggest TV audiences glued into the same game.

Now it is time to focus on the markets that have proven to support the game through and through, where the NHL can be the center of attention no matter what. That of course is Canada and where better to begin that with a second team in the GTA.

James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail wrote the league has failed to capitalize on the interest in the NHL in the area when it comes to regional TV ratings:

“The league has done very little to grow interest among those eight million fans, which seems like a bizarre strategy for a sport that goes bananas over U.S. regional ratings that are well under a half million for even the top teams.”

The saga is far from over but with so many teams in the States struggling to stay afloat, we will see if the league learned their lesson or not. Hopefully they did and we can be talking about another team relocating to Canada, but this time in the nation’s biggest market.

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