Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 2: The NHL Will Be Watching The Return Of The Montreal Expos Closely

In one of the first articles I wrote on this blog after the NHL officially announced its last expansion, was that the NFL, NBA, and MLB would be closely watching how the new NHL expansion developed. All had reasons to do it. Since the Mortgage Meltdown which dampened enthusiasm for expansion, none of the “big 4″ North American sports leagues had expanded for more than a decade.

Before the meltdown, it had seemed inevitable that all four sports leagues would realign into an NFL type structure and then expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams, 5 teams to a division. But the economic troubles have postponed expansion and the NHL was the first league to renew interest in a drive to become a 40 team league.

The arrogant NFL which seems committed to remaining a 32 team, 4 division league and prefers to strip its existing franchise cities of their teams and move them elsewhere, would show the least interest. But the NBA and MLB, which were both stuck at the awkward number of 30 teams like the NHL and needed to realign into the NFL structure with the symmetrical number of 32 teams, a prelude to expanding further later, had a special reason to watch the new NHL expansion closely.

Since the last time a league expanded was well over a decade ago, they would be paying close attention to the amount of expansion fee, the NHL would charge. They would be interested in how many teams the NHL wants to expand by. They would want to know how many bidders the NHL’s terms would attract and from which cities. They would want to know how many bidders would fully commit themselves. They would pay attention to fan ticket drives and the all important factor of new arenas/stadiums.

The NHL’s last attempt at expansion was a major failure, probably because they set an expansion fee of $500 million, plus a $10 million “consideration fee” which the investment world found unrealistic. Only fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas stuck it out to the end, and the Quebec bid was rejected because the NHL found the potential owner unsuitable. For this NHL expansion, there were no competing bids from rival cities. For this expansion, the NHL had to settle for what they could get. In the end, all they got was Las Vegas which increased the league to 31 teams, one short of realignment.

Before the NHL announced expansion, most media and Internet websites were reporting that there were 4 “done deals” already on the table, Seattle, second Toronto, Las Vegas, and Quebec. So what happened was a major disappointment for the NHL. As mentioned in the previous article in this series, the NHL was probably also trying to change its status in the United States; lots of bids for teams with that $500 million fee would confirm that NHL’s status in the United States was now at least closer in stature to the other three leagues. Instead all that was reconfirmed was that NHL remains number 4 in the US, maybe by a considerable margin.

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Now comes the news that MLB wants to eventually take the plunge and become a symmetrical league of 32 teams in an NFL type structure. The new franchises seem to be a returned Montreal Expos and a new expansion city.

Now it will be the NHL’s turn to watch. The same factors listed above will command the NHL’s attention. What is the value of an MLB team? Can or will they set a $500 million expansion fee or higher? Or is there a lesson to be learned from the NHL’s expansion which is that North American sports leagues expansion fees should be lower?

Certainly the result will be another way of determining the status of the NHL in the United States. How close are they to the status of Major League Baseball? If the NHL is now closer in stature in the United States to MLB, it means that the NHL can negotiate for a much higher contract from American television once their current contracts expire. But if the results go the other way, will this be another humiliation, another black eye in the story of the struggle to make hockey popular in the United States? That MLB successfully expanded by two cities to the NHL’s one. That MLB had lots of bidders for the two new teams while the NHL had no competition at all and had settle for what it could get. That MLB can realign easily while the NHL cannot. That the NHL does not merit a big increase in American television revenue and coverage.

Hockey fans that don’t usually pay attention to baseball now have a real reason to watch MLB expansion. What happens will not only tell something significant about MLB, it will also shed light on the status of the NHL in the United States.

 

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6 thoughts on “Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 2: The NHL Will Be Watching The Return Of The Montreal Expos Closely

  1. Well I know that MLB has been talking about going back to Montreal for quite some time. However They have not been gone that long and expanding back I don’t know if it works. They (in my lifetime it seems) had issues. To the point that they wanted to have french speaking players, manager coaches the whole shabang. And there are not that many are from that part of Canada. Maybe that was a perception. Never have people in the stands and Montreal hating the game of baseball in general. However I’m 39 and when the expos left I would have been 26 so my views maybe highly skewed by the last years. I don’t know and if the team was never good you never grow the product base. Baseball is an odd duck its an old game and many people don’t like it. Its too slow and boring. However more youth are playing baseball in America now than any other sport. Maybe it works in Montreal but it sounds like more of the same Montreal wants to be different. Also the reason that NHL gave for not going to Quebec was that the Canadian dollar was weak and they would revisit it at a later date.

  2. Josh, everything is dependent on Montreal building a suitable baseball stadium. Once that is settled, it would not surprise me to know that a returned Expos are a sure thing. And Montrealers are not so picky about baseball players speaking French like they are in hockey because most baseball players are from the United States and elsewhere, though it does increase the popularity of the player if he can speak some French. The late Gary Carter was very popular in Montreal because he wanted to become multi-lingual so playing in Montreal was god-send for him because it allowed him to learn and use French regularly.

    Montreal has never hated baseball. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, they were the Dodgers top farm club and Jackie Robinson got his start there. More people play baseball than hockey because it is a cheaper game to start and it is easier to learn.

    The NHL uses the low Canadian dollar as a cover up excuse to not going back to Quebec though it may be a minor factor. The real reason they have not gone back to Quebec is that the potential new owner has made lots of enemies on the NHL Board and the NHL will not return until a suitable owner is found.

    • Like I was saying before Montreal always seemed that they want to be different and separate. Treat english speakers badly. Which reading your blog its not the people in Quebec that deal with english speakers that dislike them its the ones that are isolated that give into that mentality and that promotes that idea on both sides. I mean hell I remember hearing stories of people going there and if you didn’t speak french they treated you like trash. However I can’t think of a person who told me this. Which feeds into that same effect on the other side. My point is that an owner like that would only continue this idea that this is how Quebec thinks of english speakers and like you were saying that can not happen. They can not give into that lowest common denominator it makes them look bad. Unfortunately they set the stakes too high at ½ billion. Maybe a silent bid and only the offices know the amount that offered so they they can take less I don’t know.

      • Josh, I’ll have to start explaining some things to you about the province of Quebec and the separatist movement. First, Montreal is a melting pot city, the main area in the province where French and English intermingle. Now like you said, it would seem logical that each group would form a bad image of each other and be at each other’s throats but it is not. Surprisingly the main part of the separatist movement is in the interior of the province where there is little contact between English and French, not in Montreal.

        This is not something new in Canadian history. During the War of 1812, the parts of the United States that were closest to the Canadian border, New England, New York, Michigan absolutely detested the war. New England would even threaten secession, almost 50 years before the American Civil War. Many of these people had friends and relatives on either side of the border and shared a common culture. Evidently proximity breeds a common sympathy and understanding.

        The state that hated the UK and Canada the most was far away Kentucky that was suffering from British economic measures and had no contact at all with Canada. Myths, based on no direct communication were built up. And that’s true about the separatist movement today. The people who are in favor of separation live the farthest from what is termed “English Canada.

        Quebec City, in contrast to Montreal is virtually a complete French speaking city, the only one of its kind in North America. If you read some of my articles I discuss the consequences of the NHL coming back to Quebec. Having more contact with “foreigners” will probably help decrease the separatist movement.

        I’ve written too many articles about the Quebec ownership problem to count. The potential bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his business rivalries, support of the separatist party, inappropriate racial remarks and general untrustworthiness. The NHL will never accept him unless he makes a public apology and converts on the scale of St. Paul. The NHL cannot tolerate a public racist on its Board. Probably behind the scenes Gary Bettman has been searching for a suitable owner but so far no announcements have occurred. Until the ownership issue is settled, Quebec will not get its team back.

      • That was my point its the people with no contact to each other that have the greatest issue. My point that I’m in the middle of America 0 contact with Quebec. And what do I hear mind you that I have never traveled anywhere near Canada nor even to Chicago. People in Quebec are jerks that hate English speakers. I have no basis in this at all I don’t even know where I heard this. The more contact the better. Its hard to hate someone you respect or understand. Its the lack of understanding and the fact that Quebec is different. Because they speak another language. I took french in high school. Well one semester I learned that it was not a good way to pick up chicks and difficult to learn. Likely not as hard as I made it but it was difficult.

  3. Josh, I have visited Quebec City a couple of times and I have enjoyed it. You can still get around if you speak English, but a few words in French like “please”, “thank you”, just a gesture that you respect their language should be enough. You are right, Quebec is very different. I think it is the only city in North America with walls, and of course it is the most French unilingual city in North America. But I think it will be a great franchise if it is brought back. The Montreal-Quebec rivalry was the best in the NHL when it existed.

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