One of the myths that Canadian hockey fans like to believe in is that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is anti-Canadian. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bettman has looked bad in Canadian eyes because during his tenure as Commissioner, two Canadian franchises Quebec and Winnipeg were lost and in trying to get a rich American television contract, he placed many new NHL expansion teams in American markets where hockey was unfamiliar, trying to convince American television networks that hockey was an American game. This angered Canadian fans even more because markets where hockey was loved, especially in Canada and the northern United States were ignored.
Bettman can be blamed for a foolish philosophy which has created many NHL franchises that lose money, but he is not anti-Canadian. In 2010 he made a tour of the three cities that lost their teams during the tough times of the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford and listed three reasonable terms for their readmission to the NHL; adequate fan-base, excellent ownership, and a proper NHL arena. If Bettman was really anti-Canadian, he would not have opened the door again for Quebec and Winnipeg.
Winnipeg is already back and Quebec is knocking at the door. They had built an arena and had billionaire Quebecor as an owner, but it was the unfortunate timing of Quebec finally ready to get a team just when the Canadian dollar took a nasty tumble in comparison with the American one. Now what seemed a sure thing is in doubt. Also unfortunate was a ridiculous $500 million entry fee that in no way corresponds to the true market value of an NHL franchise, that puts a colossal burden on any would-be NHL investor.
When Bettman stated his terms for readmission in 2010, Quebec jumped. 80,000 fans had signed a petition demanding that the Nordiques be brought back. It was apparent that spending tax dollars on a new arena was a popular way of getting votes both at the municipal and provincial level. Money was pledged and Bettman was soon seen hobnobing frequently with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier. At the same time, media giant Quebecor wanted to expand its presence in the Province of Quebec and made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Montreal Canadiens. When that failed and the company noticed the popularity of getting the Quebec Nordiques back, they switched goals and became a firm backer of both a new Quebec arena and a returned Nordiques.
Now look at the results of the recent NHL expansion process. Of 16 application forms for a new franchise, only two investors, Quebec and Las Vegas accepted the NHL’s terms. Clearly the business world has said we will not pay sucker prices for sports franchises. In this setting, unless the NHL reduces its excessive entry fee, future investors are going to be hard to come by and now Bettman and hopefully the rest of the NHL owners know it.
Bettman cannot make tours of cities stating terms for admission and then renege. He will not tell communities to spend $400 million of their tax dollars on a new sports arena and then go back on his word. He cannot afford to alienate important politicians and friends like the Quebec City mayor and the Provincial Premier. Most of all he will not be unreasonable to important investors like Quebecor when it has been shown that good investors will be hard to come by. Make no mistake, he wants Quebec back into the NHL.
Quebec will get the Nordiques back despite the fall of the Canadian dollar. Bettman will find a way either by manipulating the expansion process or shifting an existing money-losing American franchise like he did with Winnipeg. Quebec with a proper arena and a great owner like Quebecor is a sure winner and Bettman will find a way to get the Nordiques back into the NHL.