Next Year The Penguins Challenge The Steelers

Something unthinkable in 1967, something laughable in 1979 could occur next year in Pittsburgh professional sports history. The Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL have the opportunity to move into a tie to become the city’s most successful professional sports franchise. The Penguins have already tied MLB’s Pirates who have been around since 1882 with 5 professional championships. Next year they can tie the Steelers with 6.

That would seem unthinkable 50 years ago when the Penguins were born, one of six new teams in the first NHL expansion that doubled the size of the league. And Pittsburgh was the worst of the bunch. During the first few years the Penguins were the worst team in the league and seldom sold out their small arena. People wondered if NHL hockey would survive.

The Penguins then moved from bad to respectable mediocrity. They made the playoffs but were never a true Stanley Cup contender. Most of the years were forgettable and in 1983, Pittsburgh sank to the bottom again.

Then the Penguins got two back-to-back breaks. In professional hockey since the 1940s, Canada has always produced one hockey player who stands above all others both in the NHL and internationally, a chain that has always resulted in at least one Stanley Cup championship. Starting with Maurice Richard, this golden chain includes Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky.

In 1983, with Gretzky just starting to reach his NHL prime, fans wondered who his successor would be and the Penguins would draft him in 1984, Mario Lemieux. And then years later they would draft Lemieux’s successor, Sidney Crosby. (Crosby’s reputed successor is Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.) Since 1990, the result has been 5 Stanley Cups.

Now the Penguins who never compared with the Pirates and Steelers before are poised to become Pittsburgh’s greatest sports franchise. They are now already the NHL’s most successful American expansion team with 5 Stanley Cups one more than the legendary New York Islander teams that won 4 in a row. And they are currently tied with Edmonton which has also won 5 Stanley Cups as the most successful expansion team in NHL history.

The current team is so good it won the Stanley Cup without its best defenceman Kris Letang playing a single playoff game, and their best goaltender, Matt Murray missed three quarters of the playoffs. They are good enough to win for a third time in a row and perhaps even more.

They have already tied the New York Rangers, one of the “Original 6″ teams with 5 Stanley Cups. If they win again next year, they tie two more “Original 6″ teams, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks with 6 victories and have the title, “greatest NHL expansion team”, all to themselves.

The Steelers are the all time Super Bowl Champion leaders with 6 so a victory by the Penguins next year puts them on an equal footing. And if they win again next year, it means 3 in a row, something neither the Pirates or Steelers have ever done.

The Penguins have already paid a visit to the Steelers training camp with the Stanley Cup and Sidney Crosby, on behalf of his Penguins teammates threw out the first pitch at a Pirates home game. So the friendly rivalry is on. The Penguins started out late compared to their MLB and NFL cousins and for just over two decades were in the doldrums. But in the last quarter of a century, they have caught up in a hurry and have a real chance to become Pittsburgh’s greatest professional sports team, something nobody would have dreamed of, half a century ago when the franchise was born.

 

NFL No Model For The NHL – Or Anybody Else

This is supposed to be a blog about hockey, but I cannot refrain from commenting on the recent actions of the NHL’s sister professional North American sports league, the NFL which continues to exhibit sheer cold-blooded ruthlessness which ought to make every sports fan around the world – never mind in just North America and never mind if they are hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball or some other sport fans – shiver with horror. Everybody has complaints about NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, real or mythical, but compared to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Bettman, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred have halos over their heads.

In just two years, the NFL has stripped three “traditional” franchises from their cities, not because of poor fan support, not because their playing facility was particularly odious, but because they can get a “better deal” elsewhere. So much for loyal fan support, so much for extensive local media coverage, so much for local corporate support, so much for local taxpayer dollars being used to fund stadium construction; if all that gets in the way, it gets swept aside without a blink of the eye or a stirring of regret. The Los Angeles Rams are at least traditional, but the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders? Ugh!

The problem is the sheer mindless, fanatical hold that professional football has on its fans. Since the rise of the NFL in the 1960s when it overtook baseball as America’s number one sport, the NFL can get away with things that the NHL, MLB, and the NBA can only gape at and dream of. Name any other league where the sheer number of franchise shifts for reasons other than poor fan support or an outmoded facility occurs. Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston, now St. Louis (twice), Oakland (twice), and San Diego have been shifted causing immense pain to local fans.

No, I haven’t forgotten or left out Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is a unique case. Los Angeles is the only city to stand up to the NFL and not give in to blackmail about building new stadiums and other perks, etc., and bow down to the league like the others did. In Los Angeles, the movie star, not the sports athlete is king and queen, so when the Rams and Raiders left in the 1990s, Los Angeles merely yawned, put up its feet and was quite content to live without NFL football for 20 years. The NFL never forgot and forgave this humiliation, that its second largest market had shut them out and ignored them.

That makes the shift of the Chargers and the Rams even more disgraceful. Los Angeles certainly was not down on its knees begging for the NFL to come back. But Los Angeles is a much bigger market than “small city” St. Louis and San Diego and the NFL was determined to wipe out the humiliation of not having even one team in its second largest market, so they had to go. Football loving St. Louis and San Diego lost their teams to a city that could not care less. Oakland and St. Louis had traditions of winning the Super Bowl. None of this matters.

Now contrast that with the NHL where Gary Bettman struggles to keep the Arizona Coyotes going, when he opened the door in 2010, for Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford to come back by offering reasonable conditions (no mention of a $500 million expansion fee then), and with the NBA making an unofficial promise to Seattle to bring back the Supersonics if they can solve their arena problem. And MLB has had talks about starting the Expos in Montreal again.

Even more shameful is that none of this had to happen. All the NFL had to do was make a commitment to expanding the league to the next symmetrical number of 40 – divisions with 5 teams in them instead of 4 – and there would be no need to strip any city of its franchise. There are plenty of candidates – there are approximately 60 large metropolitan areas in Canada and the United States so every league is only a fraction of the size it could be. Certainly by inviting back Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, adding Las Vegas, and considering Seattle and several other cities, the NHL showed it is prepared to move past the 32 team barrier and go for 40 teams. In fact, before the Mortgage Meltdown, it seemed inevitable that all four professional sports leagues were heading to 40 at the minimum.

But expansion was never considered as an option by the NFL. Long before the Chargers and Rams were shifted, there were several websites on the Internet listing cities whose teams could be moved to Los Angeles. Certainly Buffalo, Minnesota, Jacksonville as well as the three victims were on the list. That ought to make the fans in those cities feel good about how much the NFL loves them and appreciates their support, and about how precarious their situation really is. If they don’t build new stadiums with other perks when requested… it’s goodbye NFL to some to some other place that will. No other league in North America is so ruthless.

One other consequence of the NFL’s policy of relocation instead of expansion is that there is now a huge backlog of cities who would like to be part of the next 8 expansion teams to 40, and you can bet that many of these cities are ready to capitulate on even the most ridiculously excessive of the NFL’s terms. These cities could have been enjoying NFL football long ago, except for the NFL’s obsession with Los Angeles and its determination not to expand beyond 32 teams. San Antonio, Portland, Toronto, Montreal, Birmingham, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Mexico City and faraway London, now to be joined by Oakland, St. Louis, and San Diego have been mentioned at various times. But the NFL ignored and shut them out. Los Angeles had to be resolved one way or another.

But the NFL’s arrogance does not stop with the shifting of franchises. It was the NFL, specifically the Dallas Cowboys, who started to take the game away from the “common fan” and burden city taxpayers. In 1971, by building Texas Stadium with the new idea of adding “luxury boxes” and other perky seating, the NFL introduced the “European” and “Asian” traditional social structure of “classes” into supposedly “equal” America. From then on new stadiums and arenas had to built with privileged seating in order to meet expenses and increase revenue – usually at taxpayer expense. The cost to build them soared. Also added would be pay tv, higher ticket prices and expensive merchandise that would cost more because it had an NFL sports logo on it. Football and other professional sports have been steadily moving into the exclusive domain of the rich. During the Obama administration, 45 million Americans (and uncounted Canadians) have been unofficially labeled as “poor”. They can never hope to enter the sports palaces that in many cases their tax dollars helped to build.

And I also have to remind my readers of the NFL’s hatred of foreigners, which I have written about in articles on this blog and others. Too many times I have mentioned the excessive price of tickets in Toronto when the Buffalo Bills played some of their games there. The Toronto games never came close to selling out. The gouging of “inferior”, “ignorant” Canadians so “privileged” to watch superior NFL football instead of the inferior CFL kind made even the most fanatical Toronto NFL fan check his wallet.

And the NFL showed “stuffy” Britain that it could be just as snobby as any member of the upper class nobility. For their British games, the NFL usually selects a match between the worst teams in the league that have no chance of selling out and ships the game to football-starved London. Last year the British fans started to notice what was going on and protested against the obvious arrogance. That’s a great way to increase the growth of football around the world. That’s a great way to dispel the image of the “ugly American”.

If Americans could somehow find ways to rid themselves of their football obsession, the NFL would not get away with the arrogant things it does. They would be forced to have to sell their product like everybody else instead of shrugging their shoulders and assuming a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. There’s talk about the CFL moving into these abandoned markets. It’s fanciful but I doubt if the CFL with its own precarious markets wants to make an enemy out of the powerful NFL and its cold-blooded ruthlessness.

At least the NHL, NBA, and MLB have not reached these low depths – yet. The NFL’s arrogance should make every hockey fan around the world shiver and be glad that the NHL still has what little consideration for its fans left. Former Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower used to warn Americans about the danger of the “military-industrial complex” getting out of hand. To which they should add the “sports complex” called the NFL that shows little care for anybody no matter how loyal a fan they may be.

Arizona Coyotes/NFL? Bad Morals And Bad Business

It should be win-win and instead it is lose-lose. The surreal thing about the Arizona Coyotes trying to get a $225 million subsidy from the Arizona legislature is why there is even such a subsidy bill proposed and considered. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman pleading for a bill which I suspect if he was an Arizona taxpayer, he wouldn’t even give the time of day for.

Phoenix taxpayers, specifically Glendale are already deeply in debt on an NHL arena – built specifically for the Coyotes at taxpayer expense – 13 years ago. That’s right, the Arizona Coyotes current arena, costing several hundred million dollars is no good after only 13 years. Planned obsolescence on a massive scale. Now Bettman has officially told everybody that the Coyotes are finished in Glendale, that building that arena was a mistake.

And he is right. In fact NO arena or stadium should be built with taxpayer money in any city. If an expensive facility should be placed on the junk heap after only such a short time, it has the word “sucker” written all over it. And those who did the suckering, in this case the NHL, should not get another penny for anything. Why even such a subsidy bill is before the Arizona legislature is the real mystery. And all this for a team that has only had one good NHL season in its entire existence.

There are too many other such tales. Montreal building a $1 billion dollar stadium for the Olympics in 1976 which later nobody claimed they liked to watch either a football or baseball game in. The Toronto Argonauts pulling out of the SkyDome/Rogers Field which fans claim is inappropriate and too far away to watch a football game. The wonderful Barclay’s Center, the home of the New York Islanders that has obstructed seats for watching hockey. Ottawa claiming that its Kanata home is too far away to attract fans.

Meanwhile Phoenix does not have enough taxpayer dollars to fund children’s schools. Glad to know that they have their priorities right. Perhaps Bettman and the Coyotes owners and management should send their children to Phoenix for their education.

Leagues

Adding to this wonderful story is the NFL stripping three of its “traditional” cities of their teams in the past two years, two of them, not because of bad support or bad facilities, but because their markets are not as big as Los Angeles. The NFL could have given Los Angeles two expansion teams and Las Vegas one, but instead caused pain to loyal, devoted fans in its existing markets with the shrug of its soldiers and not a blink of the eye. And it’s comforting to know that Buffalo, Minnesota, and Jacksonville as well as the three victims were listed unofficially on many websites as potential teams to be moved too. If “something better” comes up, their days could be numbered as well.

So much for fan loyalty. So much for local, regional, and state perks granted to North American professional sports owners. So much for subsidized facilities built at taxpayer expense. So much for the support of local corporate sponsorships. So much for extensive, local media coverage. Meanwhile during the Obama administration, 45 million Americans (and uncounted Canadians) have been unofficially been labeled “poor”. And much of the funding for these sports palaces and perks comes from these “poor” people’s tax dollars.

It is hard to know who is crazier, government officials who approve these grants of money or the fans themselves who want these “bread and circuses/sports drugs” at all cost. In fact the only sane people are the owners themselves. They know they can get the money and they go for it.

At least in Phoenix it is being reported that the subsidy bill has little chance to be enacted. That there are too many pressing concerns besides professional sports franchises. That even politicians are getting tired of being suckered by rich sports franchise owners. That there is one 13 year old sports facility built that is already too many. That too much has already been given to a franchise with only one decent season in its history.

That will leave the NHL in a real quandary. They have publicly stated that there is no future in Glendale and now there are no other places to play anywhere else in Phoenix. And they can’t move the Coyotes east to hockey starved Quebec, Hamilton, or Hartford because that will make the league conferences even more unbalanced. Seattle whom they favor the most is out of the picture because it can’t resolve its arena problem. Las Vegas has already got its expansion team to the tune of $500 million. So will Houston, Portland, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, even Saskatoon come to the rescue? The NHL has already had to subsidize the Coyotes for several years. The only thing that is a pleasure in all this is for once the people who have already got too much are taking the hit and not the taxpayers.

(By the way, happy April Fools Day)

NHL Goes Back To Europe…But Don’t Pull An NFL

There was some good news and bad news when the NHL announced that it would play some regular season games in Europe once more, this time in Stockholm, Sweden. It will be the first regular season NHL games in Europe since 2011. The NHL is billing this as a revival of the “NHL Global Series” and will feature two games between the Ottawa Senators and the Colorado Avalanche in November.

The good news is that NHL is playing games in Europe once more. This will give the fans over there a chance to see the best players in the world playing in front of them again. There are several Swedish players on Ottawa and Colorado so there will be some native players to cheer for. It is also a great way to improve the morale of the non-North American NHL players, who now compose a significant 26% of the total NHL rosters. The NHL is also proclaiming that these games will be part of its Centennial Celebration.

It is also a good way to prepare the ground for future NHL expansion to Europe. While that is still a long-term goal, perhaps even a very-long-term goal, it is still a feasible future concept, not some dead, dormant idea that cannot be realized. With future improvements in transportation, travel to other continents may not be so difficult and teams in Europe and Asia competing for the Stanley Cup may occur at some later date. This is certainly a progressive, not backwards idea.

Besides the Stanley Cup is already an international trophy. European players on the winning team have been taking it to Europe every year and displaying it proudly over there just like their North American teammates do in Canada and the United States. Having teams based in Europe and Asia will just complete the picture.

The bad news is the team match-up. Ottawa is a good choice, but Colorado is worst team in the NHL this year and is vying with Las Vegas for the number one draft choice. While there are some good players on Colorado, some Swedish natives as noted above, and the idea of next year’s number 1 or 2 draft choice playing two games in Sweden is good, the NHL should not give Europe “garbage games” that are a poor draw in North America. Please NHL, do not ape the NFL.

That arrogant league has just sanctioned another “traditional” franchise city to lose its team – this time the San Diego Chargers, again to Los Angeles, just like it did last year to St. Louis, not because of poor fan support, not because of a bad stadium, but because Los Angeles is the second largest market in the United States and the NFL wants to peddle itself in larger, “more important” markets than “small city” St. Louis and San Diego. (What’s next? The Las Vegas Raiders? It’s a distinct possibility.) So much for loyal fan support, local corporate sponsorship, extensive local media coverage, and local government perks that were given to the NFL owners.

It is even more disgracefully arrogant when it is remembered that Los Angeles merely yawned when the Raiders and Rams left in 1995 and could not care less whether the NFL came back or not. Los Angeles was content to live for two decades without the NFL. In L.A., the movie star, not the sports figure is king and queen. Los Angeles certainly did not react the way the stricken cities of Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Oakland and St. Louis did when they lost their teams. Nor does the NHL, NBA and MLB sanction the stripping of franchises from cities on the scale the NFL does.

But the NFL’s arrogance does not stop there. They despise foreigners and make no secret of it. When the Buffalo Bills played some of their games in Toronto, ticket prices were set so high that even the most fanatical Toronto fans, longing for an NFL team of their own, had to wince and think twice about buying a ticket. Games did not come close to selling out. Still worse are the games that are played in London, England. Usually, the NFL selects the games between teams at the bottom of the heap, that are the worst draw, which they know will not sell out in North America and ships them off to football-starved London. Last year there were open calls of derision by the British NFL fans at the sheer gall and arrogance of it.

Hopefully that will not happen with this renewed “NHL Global Series”. The NHL has far more at stake in Europe than the arrogant NFL. The NHL has a significant number of European players, scouts, and management in its league and there is no need to offend them. Give the Europeans decent games to watch which will encourage fan support and pay off in the future. Hockey has to grow around the world and arrogance and stupidity by North American professional sports leagues will not help.

NHL/America’s Attitude To The Olympics: They Are An Alien Concept

Besides news about the daily games, what’s the news on the NHL’s website? It is said that the NHL’s participation in the next Winter Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea is in danger. At the latest NHL Board meeting, many club owners, voiced several grievances against the games of which there are some of legitimate merit. There is the problem of shutting down the NHL for two weeks and revising the schedule. There is the problem of insurance and injuries to players.

But these legitimate problems seem to be playing a minor role in the current dispute. The main grievance is said to be money; the Olympics do not “pay”. What the NHL (and American television) wants are Winter Olympic Games held in the United States or Canada which can bring in big ratings and dollars. The South Korean time zone is just too much out of range for their liking. They also want their rumps kissed by having the IOC pay for their insurance, travel and accommodations. The IOC is willing to do this just like before.

The NHL/American attitude seems to be that they can step in and step out of the Olympics or any other sports or cultural event anytime they feel like it. There is no firm commitment, no sense of duty, no sense of something “spiritually higher” than themselves. This is a business decision.

This is not the first time the Olympics have been used for other purposes instead of a sporting event. Usually the reason is politics. Hitler used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda and to prove racial superiority. There was the horrible Munich massacre in 1972. In 1980, the United States and other countries withdrew from the Moscow games to protest the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. Then the eastern block retaliated by withdrawing from the 1984 Los Angeles games. This time the reason is big business.

The NHL participated in the games at Sochi, Russia which were also out of North American time zones. But the NHL now has a sizeable number of Russians and Europeans playing on their rosters, so it would not have been very politic to not participate in Sochi. But South Korea can make no similar claim on the NHL and it is not big enough nor as important enough as a country like China in the NHL’s eyes. So there are less qualms about telling the South Koreans to stick it.

Even if the NHL formally does not participate there may be problems. Several players have made it known that they want to participate in the Olympics whether the NHL participates or not. It will be interesting to see what happens should that come to pass.

But the NHL and the United States attitude to the Olympics runs deeper than money. They just do not understand international competition unless they win. They are still willing to brag and boast about the “Miracle On Ice” victory over the USSR in 1980 when it suits them but overall their attitude is bad and belongs with myths and fairytales. And if they pull out of the 2018 games they will have no claim to brag and boast about anything.

In 1972, Canada had a similar attitude to international hockey competition, but its near defeat and the excitement caused by the close competition the USSR gave changed everything. The Canadian public was given a choice; should the NHL stay a North American only league or admit players no matter where they came from if they were good. They voiced overwhelming support for the latter policy. That is why the NHL is a multi-national league today. That is why there are still competitions between NHL professionals at the Olympics and the Canada/World Cup.

The American attitude seems to be that they exist on their own planet except when they win. When leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL were formed, their champions are somehow champions of the “world”, not merely the United States or Canada despite the fact that none of their teams play a single international game except when teams from Canada and the United States in the NHL play each other or when the Toronto Blue Jays/Raptors participate. The current dispute about whether to play in South Korea is simply reality intruding on American fairytales. “We want the best hockey players in the world to play at our South Korean Olympics.” “Huh? What? What’s all this about?”

But the NHL’s bad attitude is nothing compared to baseball and football. On other blogs I have written many articles about the American attitude to the World Baseball Classic, an event designed to encourage the growth of baseball internationally. Instead most Americans pour scorn and ridicule the event, even questioning whether the event itself and its result is legitimate. This cleverly covers up the truth that the United States – the country that invented baseball – has never come close to even winning even a third place medal. Yet Americans still believe they are the best baseball players in the world; that they are willing to pay top dollar to MLB because MLB says that its players are the best in the world in spite of all the evidence to the contrary; and that the champion of the “World Series” is the champion of the world despite not playing a single foreign opponent.

But the worst attitude belongs as usual to the arrogant NFL. They despise “foreigners” and make little attempt to hide their contempt. When the Buffalo Bills began playing some of their games in Toronto in order to cash in on its lucrative market, the ticket prices were set so high that even the most fanatical Ontario NFL fan had to say, “Wait a minute. We’re not suckers.” Another telling event are the games played in London, UK. Usually the competition is between bottom-of-the-barrel teams or mismatches, projected meaningless games, games that would not sell out on their native soil. Indianapolis against Jacksonville? New York Giants against Los Angeles? Usually a seller hauls out his best stuff when he wants to make a good impression. The NFL is saying, “Take this crap, you ignorant foreigners. That’s all you’re good for.” And Americans wonder why they are unpopular when they travel abroad.

Is this attitude merely reserved for lowly foreigners? Ask the good citizens of St. Louis how they liked having their football team taken and gift wrapped to Los Angeles simply because their market is not as big as the second largest market in the United States. So much for their loyal support (Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston can all relate to this.) All the NFL had to do was expand by one or two teams and nobody would have been hurt. If this is the league’s attitude to its own citizens and supporters, it is no wonder that “foreigners” are given the dregs from the barrel.

Too bad the situation is not like soccer’s FIFA. Sure they like and want the American money and acclaim but they are quite prepared to live without the United States, being satisfied with the rest of the world. At last glance, there does not seem to be any attempt by FIFA to consult the United States or American television executives about which countries to award the World Cup to. Too bad the situation is not the same with the NHL and the current Olympics. What we will get whether good or bad is an American business decision.

NHL Expansion Will Be Closely Watched

It is not only die-hard NHL fans who will be watching closely to see what unfolds in the upcoming NHL expansion drama. The NHL will have three other interested spectators, the NFL, MLB, and the NBA.

The expansion process has been in cold hibernation in every professional league for a long time now. At one time, it seemed a foregone conclusion that every “big four” sport league would adopt an NFL symmetrical 32 team structure of two conferences with four divisions in each conference and four teams in each division. Then they would inevitably expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams.

Then came the catastrophic Mortgage Meltdown that put a damper on all business activity and enthusiasm for expansion waned. Many fans could no longer afford tickets or even buy sports merchandise and the professional sports world of unreal salaries and profits was forced to trim its sails for the time being. But after the NHL has opened the doors to expansion from two to four teams, can the other leagues be far behind? There is no shortage of cities. There are approximately 60 large metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada so all four leagues are but a fraction of the size they could be.

Certainly the other leagues will be watching the whole NHL expansion process, especially noting the NHL’s price tag for a franchise and its “consideration fee”. The NHL is considered the poorest of the “big four” leagues, with only one team, the Toronto Maple Leafs being listed in the top twenty most valuable sports franchises. The other three leagues will note what prices the NHL can get away with and plan their own expansion fees accordingly.

They will also take note of which potential owners will step up to get a franchise, how many will bid, and which cities will show the most interest and do the most (like build arenas and stadiums, and offer other special financial packages and concessions) in order to get a team.

Of the three leagues, the NFL will show the least interest. It already has a symmetrical structure and its main obsession was Los Angeles, the only city ever to yawn with indifference when its two NFL teams, the Raiders and Rams left town. Building a new luxurious Los Angeles football stadium with at least 75,000 seats was the only thing to really stir the NFL.  And the NFL has shown its usual ugly side by choosing to strip an established city (St. Louis) of its team instead of expanding the league.  So much for fan loyalty.

But the other two leagues will show the most interest. Both the NBA and MLB are stuck like the NHL at the uncomfortable number of 30 teams leading to awkward scheduling and playoff formats, especially for MLB which means that even during the regular season, one American League team must play one National League team at all times. Moving to 32 teams or more and realigning to an NFL structure makes sense for the NHL, NBA, and MLB.

But the league that will do the most watching will be the NBA because it has other reasons to do so besides the realignment issue. The NBA and the NHL usually play in the same buildings so they are well aware about which cities share the same arena and which cities do not. They automatically view cities in which there is only a NBA or NHL team as potential expansion sites. And in the case of Las Vegas and Quebec City, new cities that do not have either league.

If Las Vegas gets its NHL team and is successful, it will certainly come to the attention of the NBA. Other NHL cities that are on its radar are Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Montreal if they want to try Canadian expansion again.

On the NHL side, it would have made the league happy if the NBA cities of Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Houston, Portland, and Salt Lake City joined Quebec and Las Vegas in bidding for a team. But the outrageous entry fees have scared the rest of the would-be bidders

So NHL expansion is not just an event for hockey fans. It may be the opening of the floodgates when all four major professional leagues aim to be 40 team leagues in the not so distant future.

Will NHL Las Vegas = NFL Los Angeles?

In the United States dwells the richest, most arrogant sports league in the world called the NFL. It is well known for accepting sweetheart deals from cities in return for letting these cities keep their franchise instead of moving elsewhere. It is well known for letting their franchise members move their teams elsewhere, not because their teams were drawing poorly, but because some other city was offering a deal they could not refuse. The latest victim is St. Louis whose Rams will be shifted back to Los Angeles. So much for fan loyalty.

It is well known for despising foreigners. Witness the attempt by the Buffalo Bills to play games in the rich Toronto market and then charging ticket prices so high, that even the most fanatical NFL lover in Toronto that desperately wants an NFL team was forced to stop and consider before spending money.

And witness the pitiful sight of fans in cities with long-time support for their teams like Houston, Cleveland, Oakland, and Baltimore, etc., pleading tearfully for their team to come back after it left for greener pastures. Again, so much for fan loyalty.

But one city refused to bow to the mighty NFL, and it has been a source of bitterness, resentment, and embarrassment ever since. This was the second largest market in the United States, Los Angeles.

In 1995, both of Los Angeles’ NFL teams, the Rams and the Raiders left the city for St. Louis and Oakland. But instead of fans weeping in the streets and pleading for a new franchise, Los Angeles merely yawned. It is now twenty years since an NFL game was played in Los Angeles. MLB, the NHL, the NBA, even soccer can have two franchises in Los Angeles. The NFL has to be satisfied with one.

The tangible sign of Los Angeles’s indifference was its refusal to build at least one 75,000+ seat luxurious stadium which would probably cost over $1 billion dollars using any taxpayer money. Until that issue was resolved, there was no chance for the NFL to return to Los Angeles.

1995 was also the last year the NFL expanded to Jacksonville and Carolina. The NFL has not expanded since and seems deaf to all entreaties to do so until the “Los Angeles situation” is rectified. Portland, San Antonio, Birmingham, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Toronto, Montreal, Columbus, Mexico City, even distant London, England could be credible NFL franchises. But no, the Los Angeles snub must be avenged and put right by the arrogant NFL. Typical too was the talk about the willingness to strip an existing NFL city of its team and shift it to Los Angeles when a stadium is built instead of granting an expansion franchise. It turned out that St Louis was the victim. Again so much for fan loyalty.

So why did Los Angeles snub and show indifference to professional football? Because the NFL never learned, unlike the other professional sports leagues, that the movie star, not the sports athlete is king and queen in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is filled with amusements and the NFL is only one of them, not the only game in town. People there are more interested in Hollywood gossip; who will get the next major role, who will be nominated for the Academy Awards, who is sleeping with who, who is taking drugs and indulging in scandalous behavior.

Other leagues have accommodated themselves to this situation. They know their status is down a notch and they can accept that and market themselves with those limitations. Which brings up the subject of NHL expansion to Las Vegas.

The situation there is similar to Los Angeles only legalized gambling and prostitution are the number one games in town. For that reason, no sports league has tried to establish itself in Las Vegas. Any sports league, certainly the fourth-ranked NHL, is going to have to acknowledge that they are not number one and are unlikely ever to be so. The very existence of any sports team in Las Vegas can be put in peril by this fact.

One thing is certain. No sports league can enter the Las Vegas market displaying the arrogance that the NFL displays. Competing against two major human vices is going to be difficult for anybody.

But the NHL has had its eye on Las Vegas for decades. It now holds its awards banquet there even though Las Vegas has had minimum contact with hockey. But Las Vegas is the kind of expansion city so typical of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s time, chosen because possible success there means that the NHL can now possibly claim that hockey is an “American game” and get increased American television revenues, not because the residents really love hockey.

Las Vegas is the front runner and seems like a done deal. Hopefully the new franchise will be a success and a permanent addition to the NHL. But it will never be number one there. If the NHL can accept this limitation like it has in Los Angeles and find a way to market itself successfully, there should not be any problems. But really the situation is wait and see. Las Vegas NHL expansion – pardon the pun – for now at least remains a gamble.