Those unsourced rumors about the NHL being about to expand by four teams for $1.4 billion finally got to the point where commissioner Gary Bettman responded to them on Wednesday, and he did so in classic Bettman fashion, both denying that the league is looking to expand, and saying it would want way, way more money if it does:
On Wednesday, Bettman called the report a “complete fabrication,” and took issue with the franchise fees cited in the story — US$1.4-billion, or $350-million per team.
“The part of the story that I found particularly difficult is: suggesting that we would sell four franchises for $1.4-billion is way too low,” Bettman said. “It undervalues our franchises.”
Of course, Bettman could just be saying that, in an effort to make prospective owners (and cities) think that they not only need to put up enough money to grab an available expansion slot, but enough money to make the league think it’s worth their while to expand in the first place. Or the whole thing could just be a trial balloon — hey, let’s hint that we’ll give out expansion teams for a billion dollars apiece and see if anyone bites. There’s really no way of knowing, since the gambit would look the same from the outside either way.
As for $350 million per expansion franchise being “way too low,” well, maybe. The average NHL team was worth $413 million last year, according to Forbes, a number that’s been steadily rising. That’s heavily skewed by big-market Canadian teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, though — and aside from Quebec, all the likely NHL expansion targets would be smaller markets and in the U.S.
In short: Hey, if Bettman wants to ask for half a billion dollars for an expansion team, he might as well try it — there are clearly a bunch of billionaires out there who just want a team and don’t care what it costs to buy one. And worst case, you just don’t expand, which means forgoing a bunch of quick cash, but also avoiding any more Arizona Coyotes messes, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Man, is it a good time to be running a tightly controlled monopolistic sports league, or what?