Quebec gets ready to open big empty hockey arena, mayor jokes that “my cousin Réjean” will play there

That Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume is such a card! Check him out talking about the hockey arena that he saddled taxpayers with between $270 million and $330 million in payments on, in order to get an NHL team, and which now persists in not having an NHL team:

“What are you going to put inside?” host Marie-France Bazzo asked the man who was the project’s biggest booster.

“Listen, we’ll have public skating,” Mr. Labeaume joked. “My cousin Réjean wants to play there too,” he added, struggling to contain his own laughter.

Hahahaha! Ha! Ha.

There will be a minor-league team playing in the new arena, but that’s still not exactly what Quebecois had in mind. (Though, you know, I did kinda tell you so.) But Quebec still might get an expansion NHL team, right?

In 2011, the average value of an NHL team was US$240-million, he said. By last year it had more than doubled to US$490-million. The huge investment required to acquire a team, whether through expansion or purchase of an existing team, would make it hard for owners to turn a profit in a small market like Quebec City. The plummeting Canadian dollar only aggravates the situation.

“I don’t see how it can be financially viable in a city of 700,000 people,” Mr. Richelieu said. “To make it past the first two or three years, when the novelty and enthusiasm of having the Nordiques back is past, will be hard. After that, people might find it hard to fork out the hefty ticket price to pay for a major-league-calibre show.”

Economics aside, the league is displaying little interest in returning to the Quebec capital. When possible expansion is mentioned, the names of Las Vegas and Seattle are at the top of the list as the league seeks to balance the number of teams in its Eastern and Western conferences. And NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated on the weekend his opposition to moving an existing team.

Oh, well. Cue the “cold Kansas City” jibes!

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18 comments on “Quebec gets ready to open big empty hockey arena, mayor jokes that “my cousin Réjean” will play there

  1. Refusal to relocate teams AND thinking it’s a good idea to put a team in Vegas? If that’s not proof that Bettman is a moron, I don’t know what is.

  2. Except we all know there’s a 0% chance Quebec City won’t get an NHL team.

    Anyone who doubts the Nordiques return should lose all credibility in the future.

    There are 4 NHL teams that aren’t going to be around 20 years from now: Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Arizona Coyotes… You can ascertain Quebec City will end up with one of those franchises.

  3. @Jordan: Out of curiosity, where do you think the other three could land? And for the sake of argument, let’s assume two more teams aren’t added to the league. So 1 out of the 4 you mentioned goes to QC.

    My guesses/hopes would be Seattle, Portland, and then Salt Lake/KC/Milwaukee. Then realign the league accordingly.

  4. It will be interesting to see if the “poor sister” of the major sports leagues in North America sticks with it’s variable pricing structure next time they expand (and they will expand, though probably not to QC for the reasons noted… QC and KC will have to acquire teams the old fashioned way if and when they get them… buy someone else’s mistake).

    Does the fact that the “average” NHL team is reportedly worth $490m actually matter when looking at prospective expansion locations? After all, this number is heavily skewed by franchises in 10-12 highly successful markets. The case can be made that the bottom six franchises in the NHL aren’t worth $100m combined as businesses. It is unlikely that the owner of a Las Vegas or Seattle expansion team will generate Rangers/Leafs/Black Hawks like revenue. They should be better off than Glendale and Florida on an operating basis, but then, so are most kids who run lemonade stands…

  5. When the Jackets, Thrashers, Predators and Wild were approved, they paid different expansion fees… but then they did not all join the league in the same season. The fees were, as I recall, between $100-125m for each franchise.

    Why do we now believe that some idiot will pay $400m for a Vegas franchise and perhaps $300m for Seattle? (or, if you really want to speculate, $850m for Toronto II… which I personally do not ever see happening for any amount of money)

    In what way is such a price justifiable, beyond the obvious (insert Barnum quote here)?

    The NHL’s much vaunted “new” tv deals have increased the size of the pie, to be sure. But they have gone from a total of about $300m/yr to a little over $630m/yr.

    Crucially, both major network deals (Rogers/NBC Comcast) cover more than a decade going forward and surrender all digital media rights to the broadcasters.

    So…. where is the revenue growth going to come from going forward folks?

    There are signs the league has already reached its ticket and merch price point in many of it’s markets (the good ones), and despite what our political leaders say, the “recovery” has been anything but economy wide.

  6. @Anonymous I’m not yet sold on expansion.

    Columbus Blue Jackets ==> Quebec Nordiques
    Florida Panthers ==> Las Vegas Renegades
    Arizona Coyotes ==> Milwaukee Coyotes
    Carolina Hurricanes ==> Seattle Metropolitans

    Seattle & Milwaukee do have their arena issues resolved, so it could be 2017 before it’s an option there.

    Portland & Salt Lake City are both an excellent options, but I’ve also heard a lot of speculation on the Greater Area of Toronto (GTA) supporting another franchise, which would bump Utah off if the NHL ever chooses to expand. Personally, I’m not sold on it because Chicago is a city that could support a second NHL team but that doesn’t mean they should.

    I don’t think KC will ever have an NBA or NHL team in my lifetime, but since Sprint Arena remains vacant it continuously rears its’ head into debates. Sprint Arena is the equivalent to the Alamodome for the NFL… its always there for Plan C & intimidation, but never longterm viability.

  7. Why would Milwaukee want an NHL franchise, we have enough problems dealing with the Milwaukee Bucks right now, we don’t need more sports owners looking for their share of the handouts.

  8. The only thing that is preventing a second NHL team in southern Ontario is the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’m sure they have a price in which they’d be willing to settle on, but this market could support it, and probably a third.

    The $850 million price tag is plausible but for that money, the team would go into Toronto, and not, say, Hamilton or further afield.

  9. @Jordan:
    I just don’t see Vegas happening, especially in the long term. Nothing about that market lends itself to hockey’s ability to succeed there. If it doesn’t work in Arizona (which it doesn’t), then it won’t work in Vegas. It has a lower population, less income, much more transient population, relatively high percentage of people working nights, and tons of other distractions/things to do literally as close as right next door to the arena.

  10. @James The real question is: Why would Milwaukee bend over backwards to build a new arena to keep their NBA team in-place & not make it a two-for-one by adding an NHL franchise that could easily share said arena. Plus, they have a large youth hockey presence in Wisconsin. Milwaukee seems like a no brainer, just like Seattle will be after that have a viable arena. Until then it’s all speculation.

  11. @Anonymous Not true at all; I agree the NHL is a disaster in Phoenix, but it’s a massive success in LA, Anaheim, and San Jose, all of which are in the dessert too lol. Correlation doesn’t prove causation. Sure, Vegas is an odd market, not comparable to most, but I said nothing about the long term.

    Vegas has the money, so they’re willing to go all-in & make it happen without screwing of public taxpayers. then they will. If it doesn’t work there then they’ll just relocate to Portland. Billionaire do crazy things all the time to no avail, Koch Bothers throw a billion out the window every 4 years to be relevant, so to say the NHL won’t be successful, is welcomed speculation albeit popular pessimism, but to say it won’t happen would be undermining the impulsive power of being a billionaire.

  12. The Bay Area and the Greater LA area are both significantly larger and richer than Vegas. Vegas can’t even be compared to either without continuing to look terrible as a market. And the fact that the Maloofs are the ones associated with a Vegas NHL franchise should be an instant red flag as to how bad the idea is. It makes no sense for the NHL to pass up larger, more hockey-friendly markets in favor of Vegas.

  13. @Anonymous: MONEY.

    When you have enough of it, you can put the World Cup in Qatar.

    I’m not saying it Vegas is the most hockey friendly market. I said that about Milwaukee. Although there are thousands of spoiled Californian kids that live in Vegas & pretend to be LA Kings fans, and Canadians are much more likely to vacation to Vegas than Miami or Phoenix, hence their consistently terrible attendance record.

    It doesn’t have to make sense. If someone wants to throw a Billion down on an arena & expansion fees, they will. so whenever this doesn’t make sense just remind yourself “Ohhhh yeah, its the ridiculous amount of money….”

    Vegas is nothing more than an social experiment on billionaires tab. That recipe it short-term oriented. I didn’t say anything about the long term. I think were looking at the same thing. Except one’s half empty the other’s half full.

    The NHL would gladly pass up on bigger markets for another place that’s putting money down, that’s how Oklahoma City ended up with team. No chance a city in empty Oklahoma is a better market or has more money than Seattle Amazon economy, but it still happened & it working (until SuperSonics draft picks Durant & Westbrook eventually leave one day – then it could be grim.)

  14. @ Jordan, Neil has pointed out several times that having two teams occupy one arena doesn’t necessary mean more money for the city or for the organization that runs the arena (example Barclays Center). Sports teams will just try to bargain themselves into playing in the arena for free, and that would leave less days for the arena to host concerts/other events that would pay rent for their events. Plus, my argument was more about why Milwaukee would want two different franchise owners trying to get free public money when Milwaukee is already dealing with the Bucks owners asking for 220-300 million.

    To your second point about youth hockey, Milwaukee also has a pretty extensive youth and high school basketball presence, more than hockey in my point of view, but that doesn’t necessary translate into higher attendance at professional games. Attendance is still low even with the Bucks improving this year to respectable levels.

  15. @James I was saying the NHL should consider Milwaukee because it would be successful there, not because it would double the arena’s profit.

    My point was Milwaukee, much like Seattle, priorities NBA first then NHL later. Milwaukee obviously isn’t building a second arena for an NHL team, so they wouldn’t be the one’s asking for 220-300 million of public money lol. Similar to Seattle, whenever an NBA franchise commits to their city — then an NHL teams slides in second with an owner relocating a team or a venture capitalist buying a team on his own dime to ride the NBA momentum to get a new arena as the city wanted.

    Obviously more kids play basketball… hockey is the most expensive of all the major recreational sports, but if-ever the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Redwings, or Wisconsin Badgers suck at hockey one year = the arenas are still sold out. But when the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, or Marquette suck one year = the arenas are half full whenever a good opponent’s in town. Hmmmm, must be something in the water up there… it could be cause they’re a use to skating on it when it freezes over. Youth basketball is common everywhere because practically every school has a gymnasium, youth hockey isn’t popular everywhere and even though it isn’t vital to the NHL’s success in any given market, it certainly helps! that’s my point.

  16. Mark: That (MLSe) is the only stumbling block to a second team in Toronto. Unfortunately it always has been and likely always will be.

    Prospective owners (and league execs, I’m told) have quietly asked the Leafs what amount it would take to share their market. They have consistently refused to provide a number. It has never been a negotiation, even over a theoretical fee for halving (or whatever) the market.

    From the Leafs perspective I guess I understand that… why would you want to name a ridiculously high number only to have someone agree to pay it that afternoon?

    That said, I’m not sold on a prospective T2 team being the ‘5th most valuable’ in the NHL (as the league itself said in 2012 I think). What people often overlook is the fact that Toronto is Leafs’ mad, not hockey mad in general. That’s not to say that a T2 franchise couldn’t develop it’s own following over time, but the idea that they will instantly become “like the Leafs” (though hopefully not the on-ice product…) is highly optimistic.

  17. The people that paid to have seating rights in the new Quebec arena (the Colisee Videotron) got to choose their places recently and there was no shortage of articles patting the organization in charge of this, Premiere place (formerly J’ai ma place) for proposing the arena in 2008.

    Except, in 2008 they projected selling the rights to 9,000 seats for 50 million and that it would only require 200 million more from the government for the white elephant. In the end, they only sold 3,300 seats. That and a fund-raising campaign (they likened arena contributions to any other charitable donation) only raised a total 18 million and the total cost must be around 450 million.

    The budget is supposedly $400M, but if you examine all the items that appear under separate budgets, like a pedestrian bridge that will only go from the building to an otherwise isolated parking lot, you are looking at over $450,000,000. This doesn’t included the percentage the city is on the hook for of whatever annual losses the promoter can show.

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