What is the difference between Las Vegas and Quebec as far as NHL expansion goes? In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s and listed three terms for readmission; a great fan base, a suitable owner, and a proper NHL arena (No mention of a $500 million expansion fee). Today Las Vegas has a team and Quebec does not. How do they compare?
Quebec has a better fan base and a bigger and better arena than Las Vegas. But with the ownership factor, prospective owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau made many enemies on the NHL Board by his separatist politics, his obstructionist business actions, his inappropriate racial remarks, and overall unpredictability. Las Vegas owner Bill Foley merely pays some money and signs some papers. Why can’t Quebec do the same?
Obviously other factors are at work here, preventing Quebec from returning to the NHL. And since this article is about NHL expansion into Canada as a whole, I’ll throw in the Hamilton problem and other possible Canadian NHL franchises as well. Let’s start by examining the various factors more closely.
It couldn’t be better for Quebec and Hamilton. According to the recent Canadian census, Quebec is now the 7th largest city in Canada with over 800,000 residents and its overall market stretches from half way to Montreal, all the way east including the rest of the province of Quebec and the four Maritime provinces. Hamilton is 9th with 750,000 residents but it has the best regional market in Canada whose boundaries are Mississauga in the east, London in the west, Niagara Falls in the south, and Owen Sound in the north. Besides the four cities named, within this boundary lie the cities and towns of Brantford, St. Catharines, Kitchener, Burlington, Oakville, and many other significant urban centers, a total market of several million. When Edmonton, Ottawa, and Calgary got their teams, their populations were between 500,000 and 700,000 so there is no problem with a fan base in either city.
Quebec has the new Videotron which is so good, the NHL awarded Quebec a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal has already announced it will play two preseason games in Quebec next year. Hamilton’s city council announced during the Balsille/Phoenix Coyote episode that they would spend $50 million to upgrade Copps Coliseum to a more than adequate 18,500 seats should they get an NHL team. There is no problem with either facility.
It has been estimated that a new Hamilton franchise could rank as high in value as third in the NHL, behind only Toronto and the New York Rangers. Quebec with a proper arena and a suitable owner would be a certain money-maker, like Hamilton, a can’t miss NHL team, one of the better NHL franchises. There are investors/money available – but NOT in the province of Quebec.
So how come the two best prospective NHL franchises in North America – never mind just Canada – do not have teams? The fans are there, the arenas are built, and there are investors who would like to own these money-making franchises. They meet all of Bettman and the NHL’s conditions. Because the two factors that are blocking the creation of more NHL franchises in Canada, which I have written about in many articles on this blog are spiritual; Canadian elitism and French Canadian racism.
Spiritual factors seldom get mentioned when problems are analyzed. They are hard to define, irrational, often unmeasurable. But they exist and in this case especially, often play a key role in the final decisions that are made. Perhaps the most famous person who appreciated the seriousness of spiritual factors was the German chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck who seldom made a political move before taking all possible factors, even the most stupid, spiritual ones into consideration. He realized that even what seemed the most irrational, unimportant factor, if not considered, could ruin the most clever of calculations. Before doing any political, or military move, he always tried to make sure he had public opinion, and the majority of international, diplomatic opinion on his side.
Let’s start with Quebec and French Canadian racism. To the NHL it is personified by Peladeau, who backs a political party that has restricted minority rights in Quebec and has made inappropriate racial remarks about a member of the NHL Board. The NHL cannot afford or tolerate a public racist on its Board. The damage that could be done (also in the NBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, etc.) would be enormous. Gary Bettman realized that at once and turned down Peladeau’s bid without a second thought, no matter how much money he was offering. He now has to work behind the scenes to find a suitable Quebec City owner.
The problem is that there might not be any suitable French Canadian owners in the province of Quebec who want to own the Nordiques, just as there weren’t back in 1995 when Quebec lost its team. No one stepped forward back then to solve the arena and ownership problems just like in 2016, when no bidder other than Peladeau appeared. Still if there was no French Canadian racism factor, there would be no problem. Bettman would simply recruit an investor from outside the province of Quebec to own the team. As told above, Quebec is a sure money-maker. There would not be any problem finding investors. Winnipeg and Ottawa for example, are owned by non-residents. In fact, it is quite conceivable that without the racism factor, Quebec would not have lost its team back in 1995 and a new arena could have been built without a single taxpayer dollar being spent.
But outside investors fear the vengeance of racists electing a Parti Quebecois provincial government who would then pass legislation making it impossible for an “outsider” to own and operate an NHL franchise in Quebec. The discriminatory legislation that has been passed since 1970 shows that their fears are genuine and not someone’s irrational imagination. This is a classic case of a goal not being realized because of the sins of the past. And if there are no suitable French Canadian owners, other racial problems have to be answered. Would Quebecers accept an owner from outside the province who cannot speak a word of French? Are they prepared to accept multi-lingual/religious/racial outsiders, even the possibility of whole ethnic communities living within the city boundaries? Bringing back the Nordiques is a direct challenge to French Canadian racism.
The other irrational, spiritual factor that is preventing the creation of more Canadian teams is Canadian elitism. It has been around since the beginning of Canadian history: In New France; the Loyalist settlements; in 1837 two rebellions were attempted against elitist government. Since then, it has not disappeared. In almost every job I would ever have in Canada, I would see somebody picking on somebody else, looking down on them, preventing them from getting promotions, and generally making other people’s lives miserable. The ugliest incident that the public probably saw was the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons who was tormented by fellow students who regarded her as “not one of them”. Last year six girls committed suicide in Saskatchewan.
For NHL expansion into Canada, this factor centers on its existing Canadian franchise owners, who since the first expansion of 1967, do not want to share Canadian television money or Canadian markets with other Canadians. Vancouver was blocked in 1967. The NHL-WHA merger bringing Edmonton, Quebec, and Winnipeg into the league was fought against by Canadian owners until 1980. Only the admission of Calgary, Ottawa, and the transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg have met with no obstruction.
Hamilton could have a team but Toronto and Buffalo see this as a threat to their market. New York and Los Angeles worked out suitable compensation (as have similar situations in the NBA, MLB, and the NFL) but no formula has ever been worked out in Canada. This not only prevents Hamilton from joining the NHL but is a threat to the creation of a future third southern Ontario team and a second one in Montreal.
Equally vexing is that Canadian owners do not want to share Canadian television money. This affects not only the three potential franchises I just listed, but Quebec City and a future regional Saskatchewan team, probably located in Saskatoon. Right now (and I mean today or tomorrow) Canada could have three more NHL franchises (Quebec, Hamilton, the return of the Montreal Maroons), and two more within the next two decades if it were not for the two irrational spiritual problems of elitism and racism. The next five potential Canadian NHL franchises could be delayed indefinitely.
As mentioned above, spiritual problems are seldom identified or discussed. Canadians take comfort in a myth that Canadians have created themselves; that the NHL is anti-Canadian. Of course the Canadian franchise owners are glad to have this myth; that John Ziegler and Gary Bettman have led a gang of Canadian hating American owners who want to prevent more Canadian teams at all cost. That gets them and their opposition behind closed doors off the hook. Actually the American owners are probably indifferent, not hostile. And Bettman himself opened the door for Quebec and Winnipeg to return in 2010. During his first trip to Edmonton since the new arena was built, he was so impressed he came away vowing to give the city both an All Star game and an NHL draft. He has also visited Ottawa and Calgary and encouraged them to build new arenas. These are hardly the actions of a commissioner and a league that Canadians pretend are anti-Canadian.
No the main reason Canada does not have more teams are Canadian spiritual traits, elitism and racism. Quebec, Hamilton, and second Montreal should have teams right now. It should be like Las Vegas; pay some money and sign some papers. But in Canada, certain people want their rumps kissed and homage paid, so elitism and racism reign. In the second largest country on Earth, any more NHL franchises are too many more franchises.