Same Old NHL Expansion: Same Old Result

The new NHL expansion to Las Vegas and the NHL rejection of Quebec City brought the same result as usual during the Gary Bettman era: The NHL moves into a dubious, potential money-losing city and rejects a hockey-loving city.

Briefly, the many factors that caused the rejection of Quebec City can be grouped under three reasons.

1. The NHL’s greedy expansion terms that scared away almost every potential investor except the fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City.

2. The imbalance of the Eastern and Western Conferences.

3. The corruption in Canada which has kept Canadian NHL franchises to a minimum, forced down the value of the Canadian dollar from its par value with the American one, a direct reflection on the policies of the Canadian elites that run the country.

When the NHL hired Gary Bettman to be Commissioner, his main mandates as set forth by the Board of Governors was to get a rich American television contract for the NHL by proving that hockey was truly a “Big 4″ sport and to protect the monopoly of existing Canadian teams in Canada.

Bettman’s strategy to get that contract for the NHL was to expand the league into non-hockey-loving American markets all over the United States to prove to the American networks that hockey was an American game. And he managed to get better American television contracts but there were prices to be paid. Every year there have been reports of American franchises losing money, sometimes as many as ten at one time.

During Bettman’s tenure, three hockey-loving cities, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford lost their franchises, two to questionable American markets, Phoenix and Raleigh. Quebec City to Colorado can be counted a draw. Of all the expansion/relocation decisions during his time as Commissioner, only NHL expansion to Minnesota and the return of Winnipeg can be counted as the NHL moving into hockey-loving environments.

The NHL rejection of Canada (and the northern United States) also keeps the monopoly for the existing Canadian teams. They do not have to share Canadian television money, nor face any regional marketing competition. The NHL has vowed stiff monetary penalties for any expansion within a 50 mile radius. Toronto-Hamilton and Montreal versus Quebec versus second Montreal would be great rivalries, guaranteed sell-outs, but pleasing true fans is a low priority with Bettman’s NHL.

What is really galling about this latest decision is Bettman and many of the NHL governors actually wanted Quebec back in the NHL. In 2010, Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their teams in the 1990s and stated reasonable terms for readmission; adequate fan base, good ownership, and a proper NHL arena. Winnipeg is already back and Quebec fully complied with his terms (more articles about the various implications of all this to come).

But the fall of the Canadian dollar and the greedy terms of the NHL ruined Quebec’s dream. As early as last year, it was reported that there were four “done deals” for NHL expansion, with potentially more to come crawling out of the woodwork. Probably what Bettman and the Board of Governors had envisioned was that Quebec and three western teams, Las Vegas, Seattle, and either Portland or Houston would join the league, thus balancing up the conferences and allowing the NHL to realign to an NFL structure.

But the NHL’s excessive terms scared away every other potential investor. Of 16 applications for an NHL franchise only fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas accepted their terms. There would be no competition between rival cities, something unprecedented in “Big 4″ expansion history. The business world told the NHL to take a hike. This expansion actually makes the NHL look like a sports laughingstock.

Don’t think that Bettman and the NHL are off the hook by rejecting Quebec at this time. They told a community to build a $400 million hockey facility with its tax dollars and then did not pay up. That’s not going to look good to other cities like Seattle who do not have NHL arenas and who the NHL wants to expand to. Nor does Bettman want to offend valuable contacts like the Quebec City mayor or the Quebec Provincial premier. Most of all, he cannot discourage valuable potential investors like Quebecor. They are in a real jam over this. The NHL cannot get a reputation of being a double-crosser to communities, politicians, and investors.

This story is far from being over. This is just the latest chapter, a chapter of rejoicing in non-hockey-loving Las Vegas and of sadness in hockey-loving Quebec City. The usual Gary Bettman, NHL result.

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