Though Not Stated, The NHL Is Bursting At The Seams For An Expansion To 40 Teams Within Two Decades

After the failure of the last NHL expansion, probably due to the refusal of the investment world to accept a $500 million expansion fee, Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly stated that the NHL is not pursuing expansion at the present time. But right now he has got potential expansion proposals crawling out of the woodwork. Seattle is almost certain to become the 32nd NHL team which finally balances the conferences and makes realignment possible, and at least 3 almost certain expansion/relocation cities, Quebec City, Houston, and Hartford have expressed active interest in getting an NHL franchise. (I’ll deal with these individually later.)

As mentioned many times in other articles, as early as 2010 when Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission (fan base, proper arena, suitable ownership), the NHL was prepared to dramatically expand the league. At the time, the NHL had 30 teams, so their offer to readmit 3 cities meant that the NHL would have 33 teams, one more than the current 32 NFL limit. This amount of expansion implied that the NHL would also realign, probably into an NFL structure, though with 5 teams in each of the new 8 divisions, to the next symmetrical number of 40.

Unfortunately, an ownership crisis developed in Atlanta and Winnipeg had to be used to resolve the problem. Actually the NHL wanted an expansion team in Winnipeg, not a relocated Atlanta Thrashers. There is a similar problem today in Phoenix and a potential expansion city will probably have to be used to relocate the Coyotes. With the admission of Seattle, the problem of balancing the conferences is at last solved. It is easy to predict future NHL expansion: There will be four new eastern and four new western teams added (though there is the possibility of Nashville being shifted east) until the 40 team mark is reached.

Commissioner Bettman could not be more delighted at the way things are turning out for him; even his new Seattle investors have upped his expansion fee to $650 million. But at least one city is going to get a bargain-basement relocated team at less price and there are still lots of issues to be resolved.

1. There are lots of rumors about an arena crisis in Calgary. Actually it is about a pouty Flames ownership that wants its cake and eat it too. They want a new arena built (at taxpayer expense, not themselves paying for it) simply because the Saddledome is over 3 decades old. But the Saddledome is actually one of the larger (over 19,000 seats) and better arenas in the NHL. Just what is wrong with it, the Flames ownership won’t say. If they laid out what is inadequate, probably a cheaper renovation could be negotiated. Meanwhile the Flames ownership makes relocation threats, knowing full well that the Saddledome could probably carry them for at least another decade without any problems. Nobody wants to tear down the 86 year old Empire State Building. By accepting Seattle with its renovated 55 year old arena, how can the NHL refuse a cheaper offer of renovating the 34 year old Saddledome instead of building a costly and maybe unnecessary new arena? The only true NHL arena problem is in Phoenix.

2. The only thing stopping Quebec from getting a team is the ownership factor. The local Quebec market is now over 800,000 and the entire market stretching west half way to Montreal and also including all eastern Quebec, plus the 4 Maritime provinces is several million. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena and gave it its blessing by awarding a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there. So the only objectionable factor is the owner. Pierre Karl Peladeau has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his public racist comments about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, his support of the Quebec separatist political party, and his general untrustworthiness. At the recent Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was seen publicly with Gary Bettman many times but Peladeau was as usual nowhere in sight. A suitable ownership bid from Quebec City means that the Nordiques return to the NHL tomorrow. Quebec is a prime candidate for the relocated Coyotes and it would not be surprising if the Coyotes come at the same time as two more western expansion cities (one probably Houston) get added to the league.

3. Since the NHL is ready to accept an old renovated arena in Seattle (55 years old) instead of a new arena, there should be no objections to Hartford renovating the XL Center which is 41 years old. The Seattle project at least is highly dubious because it will produce an arena that will make it the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL. For the money that they are planning to spend, it would be better if Seattle built a new, modern arena instead. The Hartford renovation must increase the seating capacity of the XL Center.

4. Bettman could not be more delighted that the Houston Rockets of the NBA were sold and now the market has a friendly arena owner in Tilman Fertitta. The NHL has long wanted Houston in the league to be a rival for Dallas and has regretted turning down the bungled attempt by the WHA Aeros in the 1970s to get in. Houston is the largest American city without NHL hockey and it is only a matter of time now, like Seattle, before it gets its franchise. Probably Bettman is only waiting for the token Seattle approval process to conclude before making a formal Houston expansion announcement. Given Bettman’s new policy of negotiating NHL expansion secretly instead of the traditional way of announcing a competition for expansion that failed so miserably last time when the NHL could only get Las Vegas, it might not be inaccurate to conclude that Houston has already been secretly accepted, a “done deal” like the ones that were being proclaimed on the Internet and in the press before the last expansion was announced.

5. The happiest development for Bettman is what the new Seattle expansion means. During the last disastrous Las Vegas expansion, the investment world told him and his $500 million expansion fee to take a hike. But the breach in the wall by Seattle gives Bettman the last laugh. He can now expand the NHL to 40 teams and who knows what the final expansion fee for the 40th team might be? Thanks to Seattle, he and the NHL are getting their cake and eating it too.

What are my predictions? The NHL is on its way to becoming a 40 team league within the next two decades in a realigned NFL structure, the only difference being that each division will have 5 teams instead of 4. There will be a few stopping points along the way. Right now I think this initial phase of expansion will temporarily halt at 34 teams before resuming once the new franchises get settled and consolidated. That means that Houston, if they find a suitable owner will be the next NHL team, and Quebec City, keeping the existing Arizona ownership which means Pierre Karl Peladeau is finally out of the picture, will get the Coyotes. Since the NHL wants to keep 2 balanced conferences, the only mystery is what other western American city will be Houston’s expansion partner. My guess is it will be one of Portland, San Diego, Oklahoma City or Kansas City. And our behind-the-scenes man, Bettman has already been negotiating with at least one of them, waiting to proclaim their chance, along with Houston to apply for an NHL franchise once the token Seattle approval process is finished.

Then after a few years the NHL will accept Hartford’s renovated arena and be forced to grit its teeth and tell the Calgary Flames to make some terms about a Saddledome renovation. By then other cities will be even more hungry for an NHL team. In Canada, once the Quebec City situation is cleared up, the next city will be second southern Ontario (probably Hamilton) or second Montreal. Whoever are the three western American city losers will be even more ripe for the taking. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building new arenas but they may be too small and too basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Saskatoon and Spokane are long term possibilities.

And NHL expansion will have repercussions outside of the league. MLB, envious and admiring at what the NHL doing, can’t wait to make Montreal and Portland its next expansion cities. And the NBA, also wanting to reach at least 32 teams and realign won’t be long following the other two leagues. For them, Seattle is the obvious western choice but they have to like what they are seeing in NHL Las Vegas. Perhaps a four team NBA expansion is on the horizon.

There may be other surprise bidders for an NHL team, right now unforseen. The only thing for certain is that a 40 team NHL within two decades is on the table. The questions to be settled are who, where, when, how much, and in what order.

 

What Was Significant For Hockey In 2017?

There were a lot of long term and potential long term significant developments for hockey that occurred in 2017. This is probably my last article for the year so it is a good way of finishing it off by summarizing it. In no particular order, here are what I think were the most important developments in hockey of 2017.

THE GOOD

1.     The NHL Balances Its Conferences And Can Realign

By admitting Seattle, the NHL has reached 32 teams, just like the NFL and can now realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences, with 4 divisions of 4 teams. Once Seattle is formally approved by the NHL, expect some kind of realignment by the NHL to follow. The only remaining question is whether any more expansion cities will be admitted to league before it realigns. All indications are that NHL is not prepared to halt at 32 teams but is aiming for the next symmetrical number of 40.

2.     Jerry Bruckheimer And David Bonderman Save Gary Bettman’s NHL Expansion Bacon

The last NHL expansion involving Las Vegas was a failure. Probably what the NHL was aiming for was Quebec City and three western teams. Instead they only could get Las Vegas and the main reason was probably that the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. There was a distinct possibility that the NHL would have to postpone further expansion and realignment indefinitely unless they refunded some money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley and set a lower, more realistic expansion fee. But Bruckheimer and Bonderman broke through the investment standoff and even sweetened things by paying $650 million for a Seattle franchise. Now the NHL can expand to 40 teams and pick up a lot of cash along the way.

3.     Seattle Gets An NHL Team

It’s a mere formality now. There will be the formal investigation, legal problems sorted out, a similar Bill Foley season ticket drive, but the NHL is not going to refund $650 million even if not a single person in Seattle buys a potential season ticket. Seattle is in the NHL, exactly 100 years after they won the Stanley Cup. The only two questions are why it took them so long and will their name be the Metropolitans again.

4.     The Saving Of The New York Islanders

Hard on the heels of Seattle getting a team, the NHL got just as good news when the New York Islanders finally solved their arena problems after nearly 30 years. A new 18,000 seat arena will be built at Belmont and the Islanders can now build a competitive team at last, starting with the resigning of John Tavares.

5.     Crosby/Malkin/Pittsburgh Legend Continues To Grow

Sidney Crosby continues to behave like his illustrious forebears on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, which is the link, starting with Maurice Richard in the 1940s of the best Canadian hockey player of his generation being head and shoulders above everybody else. It has been a continuous, overlapping chain since Richard and includes Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux. All have won at least one Stanley Cup. Crosby now has three and added another Conn Smythe Trophy as well. Crosby has been part of a pioneering experiment by Pittsburgh which no other NHL team in history has tried. That has been to take Canada’s best player and pair him with a top, maybe the best European player, to win Stanley Cups. The twosome of Crosby-Malkin, Lemieux-Jagr has now won five Stanley Cups. The Penguin legend has also grown. The first 25 years were not noteworthy and at times the franchise itself seemed in peril. But during the last 25 years, the Penguins have now tied the Pittsburgh Pirates for championships and are poised to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers for best Pittsburgh major league team ever.

6.     Emergence Of Connor McDavid As Crosby’s Successor

Connor McDavid has emerged as the successor of Sidney Crosby as Canada’s best player. McDavid won the scoring championship last year ahead of Crosby, a portent of future greatness. He has big skates to fill. Not only does he have to succeed Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, he has to succeed Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. Gretzky, now part of the Oilers organization again is acting as his mentor. The big question is can Edmonton build a championship team around McDavid.

7.     NHL Plays Regular Season Games In Europe Again

Things could not have gone better for the NHL when Ottawa and Colorado played two sold out games in Stockholm. Unlike the NFL, the NHL sent two decent teams for the fans. Bettman wants to develop international hockey and play more games in Europe, a target for potential NHL expansion in the future. The Senator-Avalanche games were a welcome return.

8.     Emergence of South Korean Hockey

The other positive, significant development in international hockey was the emergence of South Korea from nowhere. The South Koreans have been promoted at both the junior and regular levels of international hockey. Awarded the Winter Olympics of 2018, the South Koreans have attempted to develop their international hockey program, and their men’s team is now at least as good as the usual “B Level” teams who have been around since before 1972. The South Koreans will make their debut against the traditional “Big 7″ countries in next year’s World Championships. Nobody knows how good this team is. Will they be demoted, or will they do something significant and finally turn the “Big 7″ into a “Big 8″?

9.     Hartford Getting Back Into The NHL

Everybody knows about Quebec, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Winnipeg trying to get back into the NHL but Hartford finally emerged from inertia to have a chance at returning to the NHL in the near future. First they announced they would spend $250 million to renovate the XL Center into an arena that will seat more than 19,000. The mayor of Hartford and the governor of Connecticut then sent a letter to the New York Islanders inviting them to become the Hartford Whalers if they could not build a new arena. That has now come to nothing. But Hartford got good news when the NHL admitted Seattle because it meant that a renovated Seattle arena was acceptable instead of building a new one. There should be no reason for the NHL to reject a renovated XL Center. If Hartford can find a suitable owner to front an expansion bid, they should be back in the NHL soon.

10.     NHL Not Acting Like The NFL

Perhaps just as important as what the NHL did is what they did not do. The NHL seems committed to expanding to 40 teams or more, a process that hurts nobody. And they respect and reward the contributions of their international players by trying to develop the game abroad and returning games between contending teams to Europe. In contrast, to get teams back in Los Angeles, their potential second largest market, which had snubbed them for 20 years, the NFL cruelly stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their teams despite a loyal following, instead of expanding their league. They followed that up by stripping Oakland of the Raiders and packing them off to Las Vegas. The NFL also shows its contempt for foreigners by sending games between bottom of the barrel teams that have no chance of selling out in the United States off to London. This obvious show of disdain has brought protests from British fans of the NFL. The NHL, the NBA, and MLB will do well to avoid the NFL’s path.

11.     Success Of The Las Vegas Golden Knights

The NHL offered generous terms for the Knights to get started, but you also need good ownership and management to take advantage of it. Las Vegas has actually created a team with a good coach that might make the playoffs in its very first year. Winning has made the team a hit. It shows that good ownership and management can make a doubtful market a success.

12.     NHL Centennial Celebrations

The NHL celebrated its 100th anniversary successfully. They got many veteran players involved, held a successful road show, added a new franchise, had fan competitions about best all time NHL moments and best uniforms, and held a cumulative outdoor game in Ottawa between the Senators and Canadiens. The only quibble I have is that they did not award returned franchises to Quebec and Hamilton to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday (See below).

THE BAD

1.     Continued Quebec City Frustration

In 2010, Commissioner Bettman toured Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, the three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s and offered them terms for readmission. These terms, which also apply to every future NHL expansion team are excellent fan base (which all three cities have); a proper NHL arena; and a suitable NHL owner (No mention of any expansion fee). Winnipeg is already back and Quebec and Hartford are making attempts to return too. The Quebec market stretches from half way to Montreal eastward and includes all four Maritime provinces, several million people, and the released Canadian Census says that metropolitan Quebec itself is now over 800,000. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena which it rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal preseason games.

So the problem is at the ownership factor because the NHL does not find Pierre Karl Peladeau, an active Quebec political separatist, who made public, racist comments about one of the Board members, Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, remarks that probably offended not only Molson but other members of the Board and Commissioner Bettman, and who is considered generally untrustworthy, acceptable. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board of Directors. Recent new and potential owners Chipman and Thomson (Winnipeg), Foley (Las Vegas), Fertitta (Houston), Molson himself (Montreal), and now Bruckheimer and Bonderman (Seattle), have all been seen in Bettman’s company but never Peladeau. The NHL, including Commissioner Bettman and Geoff Molson want a Quebec City team, but not with Peladeau involved. So far the NHL has not been able to find a suitable alternative bid from another bidder so Quebec, one of the two best markets in Canada without an NHL team, remains in suspension, “deferred” until a suitable owner appears.

2.     Arizona Coyotes Soap Opera

If the NHL managed to resolve the New York Islanders arena problem, they are miles away in Phoenix which refuses to spend public money to build a new arena for a “professional” franchise that has only iced one competitive team in its entire history. Both suburban Glendale public officials and Bettman and the Arizona ownership have publicly said they are finished with each other. Bettman stood before the Arizona Legislature to plead for public funding for a new arena but instead of being able to show competent management and ownership, he was presented with a team so bad that it was out of playoff contention after only ten games in the current season. Try and get the money now. The success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in another desert city shows how bad the Coyotes have been. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns ownership publicly insulted the Coyotes by renovating their arena to make it more basketball friendly instead of going into partnership with them to build a new arena. Quebec, Houston, Hartford, Portland and elsewhere, here we come.

3.     Calgary Flames Blackmail

The citizens and officials of Calgary are rightly concerned about spending public tax dollars on vague projects like “Calgary Next” where the final price tag is not known for sure. Actually the current Calgary Saddledome arena is one of the better ones in the NHL with over 19,000 seats. It is only 34 years old, not even close to the renovated 41 year old XL Center in Hartford or to the 55 year old Key Arena in Seattle. Just what is wrong with the Saddledome, the Flames ownership won’t say. Since the NHL is willing to accept renovated arenas, a cheaper Saddledome renovation could probably be negotiated. But instead of talking, the Flames ownership which wants a free new arena it doesn’t have to pay for, took its cue from the NFL and made threats about relocating. Since when are professional sports franchises owners “owed” new arenas and stadiums from the public? According to the Flames ownership logic, the 86 year old Empire State Building should have been torn down and replaced decades ago.

4.     The NHL Pulling Out Of the Pyeongchang Olympics

South Korea also figures in one of the two worst things about international hockey in 2017. Pyeongchang is not glamorous enough for the snobs in the United States and Canada so Gary Bettman pulled the NHL out of the 2018 Olympics but said that they might return for the next one in Beijing, China which is in exactly the same time zone as Pyeongchang. But the South Koreans may get the last laugh if they do anything significant at next year’s World Championships where they will compete against top competition for the first time. If South Korea turns out to be the long-sought eighth member of the “Big 7″, that will be a huge embarrassment for Bettman and the NHL which will have snubbed a potential new NHL market of 50 million people. It will also mean that the NHL will have snubbed the only country that has managed to raise its game from the “B Level” to the “A Level”. What a wonderful way to grow international hockey.

5.     Still No Plan For Raising The Quality Of International Hockey

The other major international hockey problem has been around since before 1972 when NHL professionals first played against international competition, the USSR national team. Back then there were boasts that hockey would soon be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But the “Big 7″ of hockey in 1972 are still the “Big 7″ of hockey in 2017. In 45 years, there has been no expansion of hockey’s base, a resounding failure. There are approximately 50 countries that play hockey including over a dozen countries (now joined by South Korea) at the “B Level” of play. Bettman unofficially recognized this problem at the revived World Cup when he created Team Europe and Team North America. He did not want any boring mismatches between “Big 7″ teams and “B Level” countries. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. His World Cup of hockey will never gain the stature of the World Cup of soccer until hockey’s base is broadened. Thousands of potential talented hockey careers, maybe as good as Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr have been lost. Bettman has proposed several good plans for growing international hockey but nothing about resolving the competition problem. But until this problem is finally faced up to and dealt with honestly, the man with the best intentions will see his international plans limited and the growth of international hockey stunted.

6.     Racism and Elitism Continue To Thwart NHL Growth In Canada

It was the 150th birthday of Canada and nothing would have been better for the NHL to join in the celebrations and also of its own centennial than to restore two Canadian franchises, Quebec City, and Hamilton. For Quebec City, since the NHL cannot find acceptable, local, French Canadian owners, the obvious solution is to get outside investors like Anglophone Quebecers, investors from “English Canada”, and investors from the United States. This is a common practice, since both Winnipeg and Ottawa are owned by Torontonians. Here Quebec City history comes back to haunt them. Remembering the discriminatory language legislation which caused thousands of Anglophone Quebecers to flee Quebec and the continuing efforts by racist political parties like the Parti Quebecois to take Quebec out of Canada, no outside investor wants to take a chance on reviving the Quebec Nordiques. They are too afraid that the racists though a Parti Quebecois government will pass legislation making it impossible for outsiders to operate a professional sports team in the province of Quebec. This hampers not only the chance of Quebec getting the Nordiques back, but chances to get a CFL team, the Winter Olympics, a World’s Fair, and tourist dollars via international conventions. Indeed it is possible to argue that if outside investors were not frightened by political and economic consequences, Quebec City which was a great NHL franchise, one of the better ones in the league, a sure money-maker with a proper arena, would not have lost the Nordiques in 1995 and would have built the Videotron long ago without any taxpayer money being used.

The other ugly Canadian trait is elitism which has been around since the days of New France where everybody knew his place in society, the British version held by the Canadian Loyalists, both of which cumulated in the Rebellions of 1837. Elitism has not gone away since then. For me personally, in almost every job I would have in Canada, there would be somebody picking on somebody else because they were deemed not good enough for them. The ugliest incident in recent years was the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons and other “undesirables” because of the non-stop torments of those who considered her not “one of them”.

For the NHL, elitism means Canadian franchise NHL owners not willing to share the national market with other Canadians. Specifically right now it means owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres not setting reasonable compensation terms so that Hamilton or another southern Ontario market can join the NHL. It will hold true for Quebec City, a second Montreal team, a third southern Ontario team, and Saskatoon. All through NHL history, Canadians and Canadian franchise owners have frustrated or postponed new Canadian teams from joining the league. Villains include Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard, Jack Kent Cooke, Molson Breweries, and lately Pierre Karl Peladeau. Canadians make up a myth that American Gary Bettman and the American NHL owners are “anti-Canadian” which is not true at all. Actually the only valid criticism of Bettman, John Ziegler, and Clarence Campbell is that they have refused to rein in the Canadian franchise owners for the good of the game in Canada.

7.     NHL Still Being Hurt By A Corrupt Health Care Industry

From my own personal experience, I know that coronary heart disease (heart attacks, blood clots and strokes, etc.) and gall stones, both officially labeled “incurable diseases” by official international medical authorities are curable. I would probably be dead nine years ago until I took a remedy for heart disease that had been classified as “alternative medicine” by the official health care industry. I have also been told by reliable sources that hay fever and other allergies can be cured by Shiatsu Massage. On this blog in many articles I described how the corrupt health care industry indirectly, significantly decided the Stanley Cup winner of 2016. Too many people are making too much money from suffering and death to allow new “cures” to be recognized. Since the NHL ties itself to “official medicine”, it is reluctant to try new successful things that are not recognized. Each November, the NHL proclaims is “Cancer Awareness Month” but who knows if any other effective cancer treatments have been blocked by the health care industry? Still worse, nobody questions what is going on. Alternative medicine is growing. Sooner or later the truth will come out.

8.     The NHL’s Poor Treatment Of Older Players

Old but productive players like Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, and Jerome Iginla have been poorly treated since the end of last season. Doan was forced to retire, Iginla is out of hockey, and Jagr is reduced to third line status in Calgary. All were productive, particularly Jagr last year. The only reason for the poor treatment was that these players are older now. It is true they are not what they were, but that does not mean that they cannot have major roles on an NHL team any more. With modern conditioning and medical improvements, the playing days, particularly of top players have been extended. Where 35 was probably the average age to retire, years ago, today it is reasonable to expect 40+ as a retirement age which will only grow longer as more medical and conditioning techniques improve. These three players are merely the start of a coming trend. The NHL continues to ignore it.

 

Calgary, Hartford, Hamilton And Seattle All Now Lumped Together Under One Big Arena Mess

Ho Ho Ho! NHL (and other North American sport leagues) hypocrisy rides again. It centers about the issue of building sports arenas and stadiums and who should pay for them. In this year where the jolly old arrogant NFL stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their franchises just to please Los Angeles, a city that snubbed them for two decades, and plans to do the same to Oakland in the near future, we find four cites who either have or want an NHL franchise suddenly bound together on the issue of a new arena. It seems strange that we can lump all these diverse cities together but the issue is the same. And there is the same blackmail, lies, taxpayer burden, and hypocrisy tainting all four locations.

Calgary

It all starts in Calgary where the Flames ownership have engaged in “or else talk” to get a new arena built to replace the 34 year old Saddledome. On the table is a proposed combined NHL-CFL project (arena-stadium) called “Calgary Next” that will cost either $890 million (the proposers) or nearly $2 billion (the realists). Just to let everyone know where the NHL stands on this issue, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary earlier this year and urged the municipal powers that be to accept it. He loves new arenas like the ones in Las Vegas, Edmonton, and Detroit. He wants new ones built in Phoenix and Ottawa too.

But when you can’t agree on the real cost of a major project, it is not wise to start building until you get all the answers. Remember Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Toronto’s Skydome? They soared to $1 billion and $500 million before they were finished. Calgary officials and taxpayers have every reason to ask questions and proceed cautiously.

More importantly for this article, just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It has been renovated once and with over 19,000 seats, it is one of the bigger and better arenas in the NHL. Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL have specified what they are dissatisfied with and what has to be changed. All that’s been stated is that the building is too old at 34 years (How come the Empire State Building, etc. is still standing?) and if they don’t get their way, the Flames will consider moving. Perhaps if they would state what is wrong with the Saddledome, a much cheaper renovation could be made. But taking their cue from the arrogant NFL, the Flames ownership have issued a veiled “or else” ultimatum to try to blackmail the city and its taxpayers. They of course want nothing to do with building a new arena by themselves.

The Flames want to move because of the mere age of the building. But right now in Hartford and Seattle, officials plan to spend $250 million and $564 million to renovate a 41 year old building and a 55 year old building so that they can get an NHL franchise. And a few years ago, when Jim Balsille was vainly trying to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, its officials voted to spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to the current NHL median seating of 18,500. The Coyotes of course never came so the renovations were never made.

But if the NHL and the Flames can’t accept a 34 year old renovated Saddledome, how can the NHL accept the renovations of the XL Center and the Key Arena? If I’m a municipal official in Hartford and Seattle, acting responsibly on behalf of my taxpayer voters, I want to get something tangible for my money and that means a certain NHL franchise and nothing less. I don’t want to spend $250 million and $564 million and be told by the NHL that the changes made are unacceptable. I want answers right NOW before I spend a single penny. I’m not going to spend that amount of cash and get nothing to show for it. I want a straight and honest answer from the NHL. Are you going to accept a renovated “old” building or not? And if the answer is no, I’m not spending anything.

Seattle

There are other questions that should be answered right now, starting with seating capacity. That’s not an issue in Calgary and won’t be one in Hamilton or Hartford where the seating will be raised to 18,500 and 19,000. But it sure is one in Seattle. The proposed $564 million renovation will mean a seating capacity of only 17,100, making it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders who have just stated that if they get a favorable ruling, they intend to build a brand new arena at Belmont Park. Seattle’s “improved” renovated arena will be over a thousand seats less than the NHL median. And back to Hamilton, that’s less than the current seating capacity of Copps Coliseum which the NHL claims is unacceptable. The best this renovation can do is build a stopgap arena. Is this renovation really worth doing at that cost?

And most importantly, there’s the cost issue. As noted above, the weaselly Flames ownership doesn’t want to spend a single cent on a new arena but engages in veiled blackmail instead. If NHL hockey was not so important to Calgary, I’d show the door to the Flames ownership right now. I’m not going spend a single penny on either “Calgary Next” or just a new NHL arena until I know the true cost of building one. And if a much cheaper renovation of the Saddledome is more appropriate, that’s what I’ll do.

Hamilton

And for Hamilton, Hartford, and Seattle I’ve got some other questions. How come it only costs Hamilton $50 million to make Copps Coliseum an acceptable arena while it costs Hartford $250 million and Seattle $564 million for the same thing? How come it cost Las Vegas and Quebec City only $375 million to build a new arena while it has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million and the $564 million for just renovations in Seattle? I want answers NHL, and I want them NOW.

Hartford

So where do I stand on these issues?

Calgary:

I want to know just what the Flames ownership says is wrong with the Saddledome and if it is feasible, renovate the building again. I’ll only consider “Calgary Next” or other schemes if renovating the Saddledome is not feasible. And before I spend any money, I want to know the true cost of any new arena/stadium. If the Flames ownership is still not satisfied, I’d reluctantly show them the door. It would be just as damaging for them and the NHL to leave Calgary as it will be for the city.

Hamilton:

Stop kicking this city around NHL. Tell them that you will award them an expansion franchise based on the $50 million renovation. And tell Toronto and Buffalo to spell out reasonable compensation terms like what happened in New York and Los Angeles. This city should have been given a team long ago.

Hartford:

First I want to know if the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center or not. If they do, I will proceed with the $250 million renovation though I do want to know why Hamilton can renovate its arena so much more cheaply. If the NHL will not accept the renovation, I want to know why Quebec and Las Vegas can build acceptable arenas that are over $100 million less than the estimated cost of a proposed new Hartford arena. And when I get satisfactory answers for both the costs of renovation and building a new arena, I’ll proceed on that basis.

Seattle:

Scrap the renovation project. For the money they are willing to spend, tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new modern one on the site that has proper seating. And because the NBA will always have more seats in an arena than the NHL, build a new arena to get an NHL team first. The NBA will automatically be satisfied.

I want Calgary to keep its team and I want the other three cities plus Quebec into the NHL as soon as possible. But not at the cost of giving into blackmail and spending public tax dollars wastefully. To repeat, these cities want truthful answers NOW, NHL and they expect you to honor your word. They don’t want to be lied to in this day and age, when it is too late to turn back and leagues like the NFL are making suckers out of loyal fans and their public officials. They want something to show for their money, an NHL team playing in an acceptable arena. I don’t think that is too much to expect.

 

Hartford Should Get An NHL Guarantee Before Spending

After two decades of doing nothing, it was announced earlier this year that the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut would spend $250 million to upgrade the 41 year old XL Center to 19,000 seats in hopes of getting back the lost Hartford Whalers. The intention of the Mayor and the Governor are plain. They even sent a letter to the owners of the New York Islanders who have arena problems, inviting the Islanders to solve their arena mess by leaving Brooklyn and becoming the reborn Hartford Whalers once the XL Center is renovated.

But is Hartford doing the right thing? Are they spending $250 for nothing? Why should this question be raised at all? Because of what is going on in Calgary.

Out west, the 19,000 seat Saddledome, one of the biggest arenas in the NHL is 34 years old, seven years younger than the XL Center. But the owners of the Calgary Flames have suddenly turned against the structure, claiming it is old and obsolete. What is being proposed is a combined NHL-CFL arena-stadium project called “Calgary Next”. This project is so controversial that nobody can give an accurate cost figure. The gung-ho builders claim it costs $890 million. The “realists” say the actual cost will be near $2 billion.

The pouty Flames ownership has thrown an “or else” tantrum if they do not get their way, threatening to leave Calgary for fairer pastures. And of course NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who loves new arenas, especially the new ones in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Edmonton, flew into Calgary earlier this year (on his new arena tour that included new arena pleas in Phoenix and Ottawa) urging the municipal Calgary government to accept “Calgary Next”.

The Flames ownership has never publicly stated what is specifically wrong with the 34 year old Saddledome. If they laid out their exact grievances, perhaps a much cheaper renovation could be done. But like all North American professional sports franchise owners in this day and age, they expect the local taxpayers to pay for a new facility to which they will contribute exactly 0 to build.

Well if a 34 year old arena with new renovations is unacceptable to a sports franchise owner and the NHL and its Commissioner, how is the NHL supposed to accept a renovated 41 year old XL Center? The NHL has not uttered one official comment about the proposed renovation of the XL Center. Clearly by their open letter to the New York Islanders owners, the Governor and the Mayor expect to get the Whalers back in return for spending $250 million.

But the city and the state should hold back. Much as I’d like to see a returned Hartford Whalers, and Gary Bettman said that the Whalers would be welcomed back in 2010 if they met his conditions about the fan base, the arena and a suitable owner, based on the situation in Calgary and elsewhere, there is no guarantee that the NHL will accept a renovated XL Center. The Hartford taxpayers could be spending $250 million for nothing.

When Jim Balsille tried to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, the city offered to spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum – in vain. And it has to be said that when Copps Coliseum was built during the 1980s, it was built with the specific intention of getting an NHL franchise. The people of Hamilton are still waiting.

It has been estimated that building a new arena in Hartford would cost in excess of $500 million. That’s double the cost of the offered $250 million. Quebec built its new Videotron arena for $375 million. If the cost of a new Hartford arena could be kept at that level, I would be 100% in favor of building a brand new arena. $500 million, double the cost of renovating the XL Center, makes me think twice.

Moreover I would also be thinking of the NFL as well. That league just recently stripped the city of St. Louis, which built a perfectly acceptable modern stadium, approximately a mere two decades ago of its franchise and shifted the Rams back to Los Angeles which finally caved in and built a suitable stadium, for the unspoken reason that Los Angeles is a bigger market where they can make more money. Then they told St. Louis to build another stadium. So much for fan loyalty, taxpayer money invested in a sports facility, local media investment, and local corporate investment. For added measure, they stripped San Diego and Oakland too.

What’s to stop another crybaby NHL owner, like the ones in Calgary for first accepting the Whalers and their renovated arena and then start complaining and threatening to leave because the arena, even though it has been upgraded, is 41 years old? If I’m a Connecticut taxpayer I would want a guarantee – in legal writing – from both the NHL and whoever wants to be the new Hartford owner that

a: Hartford is going to be guaranteed an NHL franchise by a specific date if the XL Center is renovated.

b: The new Whalers owner signs a legal document that the Whalers will be committed to Hartford for at least a fixed number of years before they can raise the issue of both a new arena and franchise shift.

The NHL made an unofficial commitment to Hartford in 2010 when Bettman made a tour of Hartford, Winnipeg, and Quebec and offered them terms for readmission. Winnipeg is already back, but Quebec, which built the Videotron that the NHL loves is stuck at the ownership factor. A returned Hartford with a proper arena and a suitable owner is a guaranteed money maker. The Whalers would renew their rivalry with Boston and other rivals in the New York area and the province of Quebec.

But unless the Mayor, Governor, and the taxpayers decide they want to build a new arena after all, they should pause and think this over before spending a single cent on renovating the XL Center. There are so many possible greedy and hidden pitfalls involved in this renovation that they may well be spending $250 million for nothing.

 

Some Cities Are Waking Up About New Arenas And Stadiums

The latest news from Calgary is that negotiations have broken off. These negotiations were about the controversial “Calgary Next” project, a combined NHL-CFL arena-stadium project or at least a single project that replaces the “old” Saddledome. It’s about time. Fans and their elected politicians should not be at the mercy of fickle and arrogant sports leagues that show no loyalty to their communities and expect new facilities every few decades.

Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? It is 34 years old and with over 19,000 seats, is one of the bigger NHL arenas. It has been renovated once. Suddenly the Calgary Flames ownership and management find it abhorrent. They of course do not want to pay for a new facility themselves and have issued a vague “or else” threat to the city if they do not get their way. (Are there secret negotiations with other cities without NHL hockey underway?)

Responsible representative municipal politicians have every reason to question the Flames and the NHL before plunging money into a possible bottomless pit, especially in this day and age. All they have to do is look at the actions of the even more high and mighty, arrogant NFL to fear the consequences. That wonderful league stripped St. Louis of the Cardinals but promised the city a new team if they would build a modern stadium. St. Louis complied and the NFL was happy to shift the Los Angeles Rams there when L.A. told the league to take a hike about building a new stadium.

Two decades later after Los Angeles finally decided to build a modern stadium, the NFL treacherously allowed the Rams to depart St. Louis because of the unstated reason that Los Angeles is a much bigger market where they can make more money. So much for the new modern stadium St. Louis built that is only a mere two decades old. Now the NFL wants them to build another one. The NFL could have expanded and started the process of becoming a 40 team league which would have hurt no one, but instead decided to unnecessarily hurt loyal fans and blackmail cities into spending billions on new facilities. To make the point plainer, they stripped San Diego and Oakland too. Based on the NFL which punishes cities and their taxpayers even if they comply with their wishes, if you were a Calgary municipal official, would you trust the NHL and the Flames?

The “Calgary Next” project is highly questionable. Costs range from under one billion to nearly to nearly two billion. If the costs cannot be accurate, there is no point even considering the project. Deceitful figures could cost taxpayers millions of dollars which could be spent better elsewhere. Taxpayers and their representatives have every right to delay and question things.

If this were the New York Islanders, a franchise that played in a facility that became obsolete, especially in seating capacity, and then moved to a facility that is even smaller with obstructed seats and bad ice, I would have some sympathy. But in Calgary there has been nothing specifically stated about what is wrong with the Saddledome. If the Flames would lay out what exactly is wrong, perhaps a much cheaper renovation could be attempted. But like spoiled brats they simply complain that the Saddledome is too old at 34 years old and then threaten to blackmail the city by leaving if they don’t get their way. If hockey was not so important to Calgary and its fans, I’d say, “See ya.”

Based on this logic, the 86 year old Empire State Building should have been torn down decades ago and a new one, taller than the Freedom Tower built. If sports franchise owners are this important, what about businessmen and home owners? Over 90% of all North American cities should be torn down and rebuilt at taxpayer expense because these people are “owed” it. But set a standard age date for a facility. 25 years, a quarter of a century and then tear it down. How about building me a new home? I deserve it.

What should be questioned is the whole concept of taxpayers paying for new facilities for rich sports franchise owners. Since when is a North American sports franchise owner “owed” a facility at public expense? Compared to most people, they’ve got too much already. But supporting a team is like a drug for most fans, as bad an addiction as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Under its spell, all logic is cast aside in an effort to be the top banana.

This problem is by no means confined to Calgary or even the NHL. Besides Calgary, here are a list of other current NHL related facility problems, excluding the legitimate New York Islander mess.

Quebec City, which wants the Nordiques back and complied with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s terms and built the Videotron, which the NHL loves, only to be thwarted by the ownership factor and have a bidder whom the NHL can’t abide.

Hartford, which also wants the Whalers back and is now willing to spend $250 million to update the XL Center. But if the NHL cannot abide the 34 year old Saddledome, how can they accept a 41 year old renovated building? There has been no comment by the NHL if this renovation will be acceptable. Hartford could be spending $250 million for nothing.

Hamilton, which was a front-running city for an NHL team in the 1980s and built Copps Coliseum in the anticipation of NHL expansion only to lose its potential franchise to Ottawa in a bungled bid. The city was prepared to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena if Jim Balsille managed to pry the Coyotes from Phoenix but the NHL opposed it and Buffalo and Toronto refused to set reasonable compensation terms. Thus the two best Canadian markets, Hamilton and Quebec City, sure money makers, remain without teams.

The possible end of the Phoenix Coyotes. Here at least, common sense may be taking over. Both the NHL and the suburb of Glendale have publicly said that they want to be rid of each other. An arena, specifically built for the Coyotes that is only 13 years old is now completely unsuitable. The NHL wants a new downtown Phoenix arena built. But the Arizona legislature and local taxpayers and their representatives are not going to have much sympathy for a franchise that is abandoning a 13 year old facility that was built specifically for them at taxpayer expense and has only iced a competitive team once in its entire history. Gary Bettman’s dream of a Phoenix team may come to an end.

Ottawa, which claims that its current arena is too far away to attract sellout crowds consistently. The Senators want a new downtown arena built. This may be the only new project that gets off the ground without much controversy.

Seattle, which was the front runner, along with Las Vegas and Quebec in the last NHL expansion. But nobody can decide who will build and where a new arena can be built. And if the potential NBA owner builds the arena, will it have the same problems that the New York Islanders found in the Barclay’s Center that was built specifically for basketball?

Kansas City, which built the Sprint Center to get both an NHL and NBA franchise. But nobody trusts the Kansas City market as being suitable for big league hockey. Kansas City has hosted some NHL preseason exhibition games which were either sellouts or half full depending on who was playing. And local investors did not like the NHL’s greedy $500 million expansion fee. So the Sprint Center remains empty without a professional hockey and basketball tenant.

Milwaukee and San Francisco which are currently building new arenas for the local NBA team. But both new facilities will be far under the current NHL seating medium of over 18,000 seats and since they are being built for a basketball team, they may have the same problems as the Barclay’s Center.

It’s time for some sober second judgment. Every hockey fan wants a local NHL team with a good facility but there has to be a return to common sense first. North American professional sports have become more and more unreal, catering only for rich fans. But when every taxpayer, rich and poor is on the hook for sports facility projects, the mindless worship for professional sports has to be set aside. There is too much money being wasted right now. Some cities are waking up to it. We’ll see what plays out.

 

Wasted Summer By The NHL

Well the new 2017-18 NHL season is about to dawn and the NHL gets revived after a school teacher two month vacation. In June there were exciting events; the crowning of the 2017 NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL Awards Banquet, the start of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the NHL draft. After that flurry the NHL has taken what it considers a well deserved two month vacation.

Since July 1, the only news at the NHL website is which free agents signed with which teams, and a series of articles about the strength and weakness of every team for next season. The only significant news was that Dallas was chosen to be the site of next year’s NHL draft in honor of its 25th anniversary. Oh yes – the new Detroit arena opened.

Pardon me, but I think that is a poor result for a summer where so many important issues that can affect the NHL long term have gone unresolved. Sure everybody deserves a rest, but I was hoping that at least one major issue would be resolved before the new season started. All the significant issues that were shelved on July 1, are still present now with the start of this new season, and in some cases, with less time to solve them, some with potential dire consequences. Am I the only one who is being a sour, Scroogey, sore-head who thinks that this summer was wasted by the NHL which should have been working maybe even overtime to solve its problems and then putting its feet up for a well-earned rest?

I am not alone if you are a Quebec Nordiques fan and want to be finally taken out of the “suspended” state that the NHL placed Quebec in after the last bungled attempt at expansion. Resolving the Quebec situation would mean that Commissioner Bettman and the NHL finally found an acceptable owner instead of the pro-separatist Pierre Karl Peladeau who made inappropriate and unacceptable public remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson. Instead one of the two best markets in Canada without an NHL team, one of the more valuable franchises in the NHL, only has a couple of Montreal Canadiens pre-season exhibition games to look forward to next season. Its beautiful new arena, the Videotron which the NHL loves is wasted and empty, a continuing scandal to a summer of nothing.

And as a sidelight, the granting of a new Quebec expansion franchise would allow the NHL to realign at last into a 32 team NFL structure which would allow the league to expand comfortably in the future to at least 40 and even 48 teams. Instead, thanks to the greedy terms of the bungled last attempt at expansion, the league only got the new Las Vegas team, leaving it at 31 teams, one short of the symmetrical 32 necessary for realignment.

The NHL should have been working its tail off this summer at devising some acceptable new expansion terms so that it could expand as soon as possible and resolve the alignment problem. The investment world found a $500 million expansion fee too excessive and backed away during the last expansion leaving only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec left, a humiliating embarrassment for the NHL. Now they have to either set an appropriate NHL expansion fee or wait indefinitely for investors to accept their current half a billion dollar terms. Expansion and realignment could be delayed for a long, long time.

And on the expansion front, Quebec’s brother franchise, Hartford, which also lost its team in the 1990s finally made some news last season by announcing a $250 million upgrade of the XL Center to a 19,000 seating capacity. So Whaler fans will also want to know the NHL’s opinion about this renovation, whether an upgraded 41 year old building will be suitable to get their team back and any expansion terms and fees that might occur along the way. But there has been no official announcement by the NHL on any of this, during the summer.

And when you mention Hartford now, you also draw in the New York Islanders because the Hartford mayor and the Connecticut governor sent the Islanders ownership a formal letter inviting them to become the new, relocated Hartford Whalers once the XL Center renovation is completed. The Islanders are having arena problems right now. The second-smallest NHL arena, the Barclay’s Center was built for basketball and has bad ice and obstructed view seats for hockey and the Islanders cannot sell it out. Because of the arena, the Islanders had the second worst attendance last year and if they don’t get good attendance they cannot afford to pay star players like John Tavares and build a competitive team.

The very existence of the Islanders depends on getting some kind of new arena, either by a move to Hartford or a new facility to be built in Queens. Time is running out and there have been no announcements about any positive developments this summer. This issue will heat up as the new season progresses. It is rumored that the Barclay Center itself wants the Islanders gone as soon as possible. The sooner this problem is solved the better, before an invisible gun is pointed at the NHL’s head.

And the NHL has a similar problem in its Western Conference, in Phoenix where both the NHL and the citizens of Glendale have publicly said they are finished with each other. Gary Bettman’s attempts to keep a team in Phoenix including the NHL owning the team and keeping it from falling into the lap of Hamilton via Jim Balsille may finally be over if a new arena in the downtown area is not built. But Phoenix and Arizona taxpayers are not going to be too eager to build a new arena for a franchise that is abandoning a facility that is only 13 years old and has only iced a competitive team once in its entire history. And in this summer of NHL nothing, there have been no announcements about a new arena or any move by the Coyotes to another city like Portland or Seattle.

And there have been no announcements about a new Seattle arena finally being built. Seattle, a “done deal”, a front-running city for an NHL franchise during the last horrible NHL expansion somehow bungled its bid like front-runners Houston and Hamilton did in expansions before them. The NHL was specifically courting Seattle because it was a western city that could balance up its conferences but the arena soap opera is going on with no end in sight. The NHL got their 31st team, Las Vegas, but not their 32nd team to balance things and realign.

Also on the arena front, there have been no announcements about the start of new arenas in Calgary and Ottawa. Bettman made a tour of these Canadian cites as well as Phoenix urging a resolution to these facility situations. There seems to be positive sentiment in Ottawa for a new downtown facility, but in Calgary, many politicians and citizens are questioning the terms and financial figures of the proposed “Calgary Next” project. And the Flames added fuel to the fire by threatening to walk out. There is nothing positive to announce in this summer of nothing in either city.

Nor is there anything positive to report internationally. The NHL pulled out of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next year leaving many NHL players threatening to desert their teams and play for their country anyway. As if that was not enough, the South Koreans who have been down in the dregs of international hockey since it began, suddenly improved enough to be promoted to the top level of international play in next year’s World Championship. That could be awfully embarrassing for Bettman who has been trying to revive the World Cup and promote international hockey and for the NHL which has now snubbed a potential new market of 50 million people, if the South Koreans do anything significant in next year’s tournament. But no announcement during the summer of any change of heart has been made.

Likewise, there has been no announcement of any new developments to improve the quality of international hockey below the traditional “big 7″ country level. Vancouver and Los Angeles will play some exhibition games in low ranked, but big market China. And Boston and Los Angeles will host some clinics for the Chinese too. But there have been no formulated plans set out to raise the standard of play particularly in the dozen “B level” countries just below the “big 7″ so that a real expansion of international hockey and the revived World Cup can be made. Just the same old thing since 1972 when NHL professionals began playing in international tournaments.

All these issues plus others that were shelved during the summer are still there when the NHL comes back from vacation. Thwarted hopes for expansion and realignment, the fate of the Winter Olympics, unresolved arena issues, improvement of international hockey, are still now hotter than ever. Am I the only person who is a sourpuss because it seems to me that nothing was done on these issues? Will the NHL come to rue that some of these issues might have been solved or at least worked on during the past summer? Can these issues continue to be shelved forever?

 

Sports Facilities Casualty List

In the wake of Calgary’s ultimatum of possibly leaving if the 31 year old Saddledome arena is not replaced in the immediate future, it is good to remind these dwellers in the unreal world of professional sports and especially the taxpayers and (usually) their spineless governments who are called upon to provide most, if not all the funds for new sports facilities, which in many cases do not fulfill the dreams they are supposed to bring about, that in many instances, a huge waste results. Here is a partial list in both hockey and other North American sports of the terrible waste of capital and other resources to build the wrong sports facilities.

Wrong Design

1. Montreal Olympic Stadium

The Olympics and their arrogance always want the grandest spectacle possible that usually lasts for the three weeks the games last. Especially to see on the first day, a group of athletes clad in their official attire walk behind two people, one carrying a sign with the country’s name on it and another carrying a pole with a piece of cloth on it which is deemed the symbolic flag of its country. For such a spectacle, the cost of the 1976 stadium was over $1 billion dollars. But after the games were over, most Montrealers decided they did not like watching the CFL Alouettes and the MLB Expos play in that facility. Today the Alouettes play somewhere else, the Expos are gone and probably won’t return until a new baseball stadium is built for them.

2. Toronto Skydome

It was overdue that Toronto get a new stadium in the 1980s. Both the Toronto Argonauts and the Toronto Blue Jays had dreams of playing in some better place. There was talk of getting an NFL team and the Olympics. And a few extra perks like a retractable roof were icing on the cake. If you are going to build something like that, you might as well go all the way. Fair enough. But for heaven’s sake, you choose the right design and build it right. In certain sections of the SkyDome upper deck, nobody can see if a fielder has caught a ball if it is hit to that part of the ballpark. You have to wait for the replay on the big screen to know. Then Toronto Argonaut fans decided they did not like watching football in the stadium any more than the Montreal fans did in theirs. Today the Argonauts play somewhere else. And plans for an NFL team and the Olympics went into the can when it was found out that the Skydome only seats about 50,000 people. A stadium that was built for over half a billion dollars is now only worth about $25 million.

3. Barclay’s Center

The New York Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL. The arena has the second smallest seating capacity ahead of only Winnipeg. There is bad ice and still worse, 1,000 obstructive view seats for hockey. The Islanders despite having a competitive team cannot sell out the arena. Recently, Hartford sent them an open letter inviting them to move to a renovated XL Center where they would become the new Whalers. The very existence of the franchise in New York is at stake if they cannot find a suitable new arena.

Betrayed Dreams

1. Copps Coliseum, Hamilton

In the mid-1980s, Hamilton built a new arena in anticipation of NHL expansion. Everyone liked it and Hamilton played host to most of the games of the 1987 Canada Cup. The NHL announced plans to grow the league through the 1990s to becoming 30 or more teams. But during the first expansion in which Hamilton was a front runner, the potential bidder, Tim Donut did not like the NHL’s terms and wanted to renegotiate them. The NHL like all North American sports leagues refused to make any concessions and the new Hamilton team became a returned Ottawa Senators. Hamilton’s arena still makes money but did not fulfill the purpose for which it was built. The NHL continues to cold-shoulder Hamilton, thanks mostly to Toronto and Buffalo who want extensive compensation from a new Hamilton franchise. The Hamilton city council has offered to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena. The market is there, the arena is there but one of the two best Canadian markets without an NHL team still has no franchise.

2. Videotron, Quebec City

In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued three factors for the readmission of Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford which had lost their NHL teams two decades ago. They had to have a sufficient fan base, a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner (No mention of a $500 million entry fee). Quebec always had the fan base, now they have the arena, but the NHL cannot abide the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau who made many enemies on the NHL Board by his separatist politics, his obstructionist business practices, his inappropriate racial remarks about an NHL Board member, and his general untrustworthiness and unpredictability. No other suitable Quebec City owner has yet appeared, so an arena that the NHL loves, that has a fanatical hockey fan base, has no professional hockey tenant.

3. Sprint Center, Kansas City

This arena which opened in 2007 was built to get both an NHL franchise and an NBA team. But no investors for either a hockey or basketball team trusts the Kansas City market. The NHL has played exhibition games there which were either half full or a sellout depending upon who played. Other cities are considered well ahead of Kansas City for NHL and NBA expansion. The Sprint Center makes money like its counterpart in Hamilton but still does not have a professional sports team tenant that was supposed to be the main reason for it being built.

League Treachery And Arrogance

1. Dome Stadium, St. Louis

St. Louis opened a 70,000 seat domed stadium in 1995 to lure the NFL back to the city. There is nothing wrong with this facility and the Rams got good attendance. But St. Louis is not as big a market as Los Angeles, the second largest market in the United States. So when Los Angeles, which had snubbed the NFL for two decades finally decided to build a suitable stadium, the NFL immediately cooked up phony excuses and shifted the Rams back to where they came from. The Rams were soon followed by the San Diego Chargers and then Oakland was moved to Las Vegas. Both the Raiders and Chargers played in older stadiums which the arrogant NFL long hated and was only waiting for a “better deal” to come along to move the teams. Of course the NFL only had to expand the league and no city would have lost its team but that was never a considered policy of the most arrogant and ruthless sports league in North America which allows franchise shifts, sometimes on only the mere whim of a prissy billionaire owner. That extensive casualty list includes both Los Angeles teams, Oakland (twice), St. Louis (twice), Cleveland, Houston,  San Diego, and Baltimore. It is also important to note that there were websites listing Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Buffalo as well as the three victim cities as other potential casualties. So much for fan loyalty, tradition, and local investment.

Wrong Location And Bad Product

1. Gila River Arena, Phoenix

13 years ago, the then Phoenix Coyotes were glad to move into this new arena, built especially for them in Glendale, Arizona. Today both Glendale and the NHL have publicly declared they are finished with each other after only 13 years. Each side claims that the arena is too far away from downtown Phoenix and Glendale further asserts that nobody is going to support a team that in truth has only produced one contending team for the Stanley Cup in its entire existence. Suburban Tempe turned down a chance to build a new arena. A bill to provide more public funding for yet another arena has come to nothing. An arena, only 13 years old now has no professional league tenant with the blessing of its community.

 

So Calgary and its taxpayers are fully justified in taking their time and closely examining any deal for any new sports facility including the joint NHL-CFL Calgary Next mega-project. In the fickle world of North American professional sports, the entire project could blow up in their faces leaving an immense bill to be paid that could be financially crippling. You only get one shot with these immense sports projects so you better take your time and get it right.

As for the Flames and their threats of moving, they should be showing cooperation, not unbridled arrogance. They are only saying what they are saying because of the fanatical devotion of their fans. As mentioned in a previous article, nobody is talking about leaving or tearing down the Empire State Building even though it is 86 years old. There are no complaints about old Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in baseball. Just what IS wrong with the Saddledome? What does it lack? It has never been completely spelled out. There were no complaints by the Flames 31 years ago.

This is just a power play, more of the arrogance from the unreal, greedy world of North American professional sports. Go ahead and leave Flames, if that is what you want. But Calgary without the Flames would not only be heartbreaking for their fans, but an embarrassment for the NHL. What does the league want, another Phoenix situation? There should be more answers and explanations on the table that are owed to the Calgary taxpayers. They are not a bottomless pit. Since when are arenas and stadiums “owed” to sports franchise owners? And since when does the public have to deal with blackmailers? If the Flames were to move, Calgary would be better off without such owners and its league.

 

Calgary Threats All Too Typical Of The Arrogance In Professional Sports

Go jump in a lake! And I’m just being polite. What should be said merits much stronger language that can’t be printed on a blog without the risk of offending someone or committing slander and libel.

In the ending days of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs we now hear the Calgary Flames threatening to leave the city if a new arena is not built to replace the Saddledome and soon. They will not “threaten to leave”, they say, they’ll just “leave” without any notice. The Saddledome ia 31 years old, the second oldest arena in the NHL behind Madison Square Garden which recently had a $1 billion renovation done to it.

If hockey wasn’t so loved by Flames fans, the proper response should be, “Here’s your plane tickets, and they’ve been charged to your account. Out on your fanny, as fast as you can go. We can live without you for 20 years and more, just like Los Angeles did without NFL football.” And, “You are right. The Saddledome does need replacing. But you build the new arena with your own money. Don’t expect we taxpayers to do it.” See if the Flames actually take them up on that stand.

I didn’t know that expensive sports arenas usually built by taxpayers and their governments were supposed to be replaced every two or three decades and paid for by the same taxpayer fans. But why stop there? If this a valid principle, it should be applied for everybody.

For instance when I lived in Canada, I dwelt in a beautiful house that was over 100 years old. If I come back, I want you to build me a bigger more modern one with your tax dollars. And Toronto’s CN Tower is now 42 years old and no longer the world’s tallest structure. It’s ancient by sports leagues’ standards. Rip it down and build something taller than the new king in Dubai. In New York, the Empire State Building was built in 1931 and got surpassed by the Freedom Tower. Let King Kong really demolish it this time and build something more fitting and taller on the site. The new Empire State Building. And for a project of replacing something old that is really challenging, how about tearing down that obsolete Great Wall of China that never did its job properly and replacing it with something like the Berlin Wall or the Hoover Dam?

In Calgary, we have the “Calgary Next” project on the table, a joint NHL-CFL arena-stadium complex that nobody really knows what the cost is. The official planners say it costs $890 million. The “realists” say it will cost more than $1 billion. It doesn’t even take into consideration if any new facilities should be also built to get an NBA team and a MLB franchise. Therefore politicians and taxpayers should take a long time to consider all aspects of such a mega-project. But the Flames and Commissioner Gary Bettman want it steamrollered mindlessly right away.

The Flames seem to be taking their cue from the NFL which recently deprived loyal fans in St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego of their traditional teams needlessly instead of expanding the league. That’s the NFL way. Everything is okay until a “better deal” comes along. Then regardless of tradition, support, loyalty, money and resources that have been invested, strip a city of its franchise unless they can top the new proposal. If the Saddledome is too old, what is to be said of Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago? MLB seems able to live with such “old dumps”.

During the Obama administration, 45 million Americans (and uncounted Canadians) got unofficially classified as “poor”. Yet they are called upon to build sports palaces with their tax dollars for rich people which they can never hope to enter. In 1971, the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL built Texas Stadium, the first sports facility to have luxury boxes. In effect Dallas officially introduced privileged seating into sports facilities, an unspoken recognition of a social “class” system, that is supposed to exist only in Europe and Asia, but not in the United States, the land that the Declaration of Independence proclaims is free and equal.

Since then steps to take away professional sports from the “common fan” have increased without any barriers. Today there are sports arenas and stadiums with privileged seating. There are expensive ticket prices, in many cities that only corporations can afford. There is expensive sports merchandise that is exactly the same quality as ordinary merchandise except it has a team logo on it. There are expensive cable and pay tv packages. The CFL for instance is no longer available on free television.

The Calgary Flames stance comes from this arrogant, unrealistic sports world that has been built. A world where cities and taxpayers are routinely blackmailed. A world in which loyalty of a franchise to its city lasts as long as the old facility for which the team probably clamored to be built suddenly becomes obsolete in the eyes of its tenant, or a better deal comes along somewhere else. A world in which rich men with money to spare demand cities build new sports palaces for them for free while 45 million and growing struggle just to get an unemployment insurance cheque.

Of course when everything is kosher again and the taxpayers and their spineless officials give in and build a new facility with public funds, we’ll get the propaganda ads again. We’ll see the sports figures interacting with and giving back to the community. We’ll be glad to know that these role models can spare such crumbs for us. Because the few moments and crumbs that they do give probably are only a tiny morsel of what the communities have given to them.

 

What The Canadian Census Means For NHL Expansion Part 2

In part 1 of this series on the results of the new Canadian census as far as its effects on the NHL (and CFL) are concerned, the positive results are clear. If suitable arenas and owners can be found, the NHL could add second Toronto, second Montreal, Quebec City, and Hamilton franchises right now. But are there any other things that can be discerned from the results? This part probes a little deeper into possible NHL consequences including new franchises, arenas, etc.

Nothing has changed

Before the 2016 census, the greater Toronto area could have welcomed back a returned Toronto Toros (WHA) if another arena could be built and a suitable owner found. The new census merely confirms it. Toronto, Chicago, and the California bay area are North American metropolitan areas that could probably support a second NHL franchise just like Los Angeles and New York.

Winners

1. Montreal

Metropolitan Montreal has cracked the 4 million barrier which should be proof enough that it has joined the above three metropolitan areas that could support a second NHL franchise. Build a new arena, find a suitable owner and bring back the Montreal Maroons.

2. Calgary

No large Canadian city is enjoying the rate of growth that Calgary is experiencing right now. It has surpassed Ottawa as Canada’s 4th largest city and is pulling away from both Ottawa and Edmonton, its closest rivals. It is too early to consider it as a challenger to Vancouver as Canada’s 3rd largest city but it is on the distant horizon if this rate of growth continues. The real significance of this growth is not for another NHL franchise but for a new arena to replace the Saddledome. “Calgary Next” is on the table right now. Since the city is growing so quickly, NHL tickets will become a hot commodity, and a new arena should be in the 19-20,000+ range for seating. “Calgary Next” also includes a new domed stadium for the CFL Stampeders. And Calgary is big enough and is growing fast enough to also consider getting an NBA team and a MLB franchise before making a final decision on both an arena and stadium.

3. Quebec City

Metropolitan Quebec passed the 800,000 mark and with its new Videotron arena, it is the leading Canadian city to get Canada’s 8th NHL franchise. Unfortunately it has not been able to resolve the ownership factor which includes racist issues. Find a suitable owner and Quebec gets the Nordiques back.

4. Winnipeg

After being in the doldrums, metropolitan Winnipeg is now nearly 780,000. That’s good news for the Jets who need a larger market to sell more tickets and merchandise. But the old Winnipeg arena which was around in 1980 when the Jets joined the NHL was only 15,000 seats for a population of around 500,000. The new Winnipeg arena which was designed for a minor league franchise seats the same 15,000. With a population that is now over 50% larger, when is the size of the Winnipeg arena going to become an active issue and a new, larger arena built?

5. Hamilton

Compared to the growth of Winnipeg and Quebec, metropolitan Hamilton’s growth to 750,000 is disappointing. But since the Hamilton market also includes the cities of Kitchener, Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, London, St. Catharines, etc., Hamilton like Quebec could be awarded an NHL team right now. The Hamilton arena has over 17,000 seats and the city is willing to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena to 18,500. Unfortunately the large expansion fee and additional financial compensation to Toronto and Buffalo is a deterrent to investors. Show some generosity and get this city into the NHL as soon as possible.

6. Kitchener

Metropolitan Kitchener including Waterloo and Cambridge has clearly established itself as Canada’s 10th largest city. It passed the 500,000 mark during the latest census. The longer Hamilton and Toronto remain without a team, the more a rival Kitchener becomes for a second or third southern Ontario NHL franchise.

7. Oshawa

Perhaps it maybe too early to consider Oshawa for an NHL franchise with a metropolitan population of near 380,000 but putting the third southern Ontario franchise on the east side of Toronto is a feasible option. Oshawa is one of the fastest growing smaller cities in Canada. Actually the idea has been raised before, decades ago when the small town of Port Hope was considered. It may seem laughable but building a new arena in that town as an Oshawa franchise means that no financial compensation has to be given to Toronto and Buffalo. And an Oshawa team can get fans and ticket holders from eastern Scarborough, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Peterborough, Belleville, and Kingston.

Disappointments

1. Saskatoon

It grew by more than 33,000 residents which is more than what Oshawa and Kitchener gained but it would have been better if Saskatoon had passed the 300,000 barrier which is what Statistics Canada had predicted. Nevertheless it is still one of the highest growth rates among smaller cities in Canada. Saskatchewan as a whole remains a mostly rural province. There are 9 more NHL franchises to be had for the NHL to reach the symmetrical number of 40, probably within the next 20 years. Maybe by the end of the second decade, Saskatoon will be big enough to grab the last franchise.

2. London

Recently at one time London had a population larger than Kitchener’s and they were neck and neck together in 2011. But London experienced dismal growth during the last half decade, failed to even crack the 500,000 mark and now sits nearly 30,000 behind Kitchener. London, which is farther away from Hamilton, and Toronto would make even more sense as an NHL franchise than Kitchener but it will not be close to getting one if its population growth remains in the doldrums.

3. The Maritimes

The good news is that Halifax finally passed 400,000. The bad news is that New Brunswick actually declined in population. So much for a CFL franchise based in Moncton. The Maritimes still remain the poorest region in Canada with small population growth. Putting an NHL franchise in a Maritime city remains a sentimental, romantic dream. For now, the best the Maritimes can hope for is that the NHL restores the Quebec Nordiques and that they market and pose as the Maritimes team as well. Hockey wise, the Maritimes are already bound to Quebec through its junior league and adding the four Maritime provinces to its overall market is good business sense for the owner and management of a returned NHL Quebec team.

“Calgary Next” Better Be Built Right

Now that the new arenas in Edmonton and Quebec are opened, what’s next on the new arena front in Canada? The is talk about two new projects; a new downtown arena in Ottawa and “Calgary Next”, a joint arena-stadium project costing $890 million (according to the official planners) or costing as much as $1.8 billion (the realists?).

This proposal first saw light of day in 2015. Naturally NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman turned up in January urging the project be accepted.

(Note to Bettman: Straighten out your Quebec City mess first and get a proper owner for a returned Nordiques team before urging new NHL arenas elsewhere.)

But such projects need to be well thought out before anything is built. Such projects are so complex they can become meaningless and when they are finally built, problems that were not envisaged come to the fore.

Here are two good examples in Canada. When the Olympic Stadium was built for 1976, it was assumed it would be the permanent home of the Montreal Expos and Montreal Alouettes. But nobody liked to watch football and baseball games there. Today the Alouettes play in a much more modest stadium and the Expos are gone, in part because Montreal would not build a new stadium to replace the Olympic Stadium.

The Skydome in Toronto was a similar project that blew up in the faces of its creators. First of all it was built to house the Toronto Blue Jays, the Toronto Argonauts, get the Olympics and an NFL team. But the initial seating, 48,000 was too small for the Olympics or an NFL team. And for baseball, there are some seats in the outfield in the upper deck where it is impossible to see if the fielder catches the ball if it is hit to that side of the outfield. Then it was decided that nobody liked watching a football game in the Skydome and now the Toronto Argonauts play at BMO field.

So if Calgary wants to build a new home for the Flames and Stampeders it had better be done right. This is a long term project and you had better get it right the first time or you will have to live with serious, costly consequences for a very long time. Here are some factors to consider before accepting the project. Remember that the thinking should be for the long term and not just for immediate needs.

FOR WHO

Arena

The arena section is said to be the new home of the NHL Calgary Flames, the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, and the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League. But what about the NBA? Is there a market for professional basketball in Calgary? A new arena would certainly make Calgary a serious contender for an NBA expansion team. Until the Mortgage Meltdown, it seemed all four major professional leagues in North America, NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB were headed to 40 teams, meaning two conferences of four divisions each with five teams in each division. Currently there is no talk about getting an NBA team but it should be a factor when considering this project.

Stadium

The new stadium is supposed to be big enough to house a CFL field for the Stampeders, a soccer field (a new Major League Soccer team?) and serve as a field house facility for the general public. But has anybody considered bringing a MLB team to Calgary? Because of the cold weather, any baseball team would have to play indoors, so this is an ideal project to build a stadium to bring Major League Baseball to Calgary. Currently there is talk of returning baseball to Montreal again if the city builds a suitable stadium. Why not bring baseball to Calgary (and Vancouver) too? Remember, you only get one shot at this so take in all the factors and possible tenants too.

WHERE

There is talk that this complex should be built on reclaimed contaminated land, but factors to consider should be parking, accessibility from public transit, and the impact of the complex on nearby neighborhoods.

SIZE AND DESIGN

It almost goes without saying that the design of the arena-stadium should allow all patrons to see the entire field and not have fiascos like the SkyDome seating. Size is a trickier factor. Is the seating for the hockey/basketball arena enough to generate enough revenue for the Flames to sign top draft choices, stars, and free agents? In today’s NHL/NBA you cannot win by being able to sign one good player. A professional team has to be able to afford to sign several star players. The stadium is said to be anywhere from 30,000 to just over 40,000. Is that big enough? Is that big enough to get an MLB baseball team? Calgary is no longer the city of 500,000 it was back in 1980. It is Canada’s fifth largest city with a population of over one million. Do you want to host the Grey Cup game and if you do, do you want attendance to be 50,000+? Do you want the Summer Olympics? They want a grand march-in stadium of 60,000+. So does the NFL, if you want it. All these factors have to be considered.

COST

The official cost is listed at $890 million but I have seen figures as high as $1.8 billion. If you consider all the possible factors and potential tenants (and they have not been so far), the cost could be much higher. Unforseen factors could be discovered and of course there is the “corruption” factor that nobody ever takes into account. The recent Toronto Pan American Games did not come in under budget.

“Calgary Next” is an exciting project that could solve the long term facility problems for the Flames, Hitmen, Roughnecks,and Stampeders, and perhaps bring Major League Soccer, the NBA, and Major League Baseball too. Calgary should take its time to consider everything before accepting a project of this size. It should be prepared to ask for major modifications, especially if it wants to bring in tenants as yet unconsidered like the NBA and MLB. Take your time to consider everything and get it right. Remember, you only get one shot.