Vegas, Quebec now frontrunners for NHL expansion teams, because nobody else bothered to bid

Official bids to own an NHL expansion franchise (assuming the NHL actually expands) were due yesterday, and of the several motley candidates, only two ended up submitting an actual bid, along with a $2 million non-refundable deposit: The Bill Foley/Maloof brothers group in Las Vegas, and Canadian telecom company Quebecor in Quebec City.

If the neo-Quebec Nordiques and Las Vegas Black Knights (that’s seriously what they’re considering calling the team — one can only hope their team motto will be “Tis but a flesh wound!“) happen, it will be because the NHL thinks it can get $500 million apiece in expansion fees, which would be worth the roughly $20 million a year in TV revenues the other teams would have to give up to each of the new franchises. Neither city would be a guaranteed success — Quebec probably has a better shot, if only because people actually watch hockey there, but they’d both be among the NHL’s smallest markets — but then, if there were an obvious expansion market, it would already have a team by now.

There was one bigger market considering a bid, or actually two bids: Seattle, where both Chris Hansen and Ray Bartoszek were reportedly interested in teams for their prospective arenas in downtown Seattle and suburban Tukwila. Neither ended up bidding, though, which would leave Seattle looking at being the home for a relocated team at some point, assuming either Hansen or Bartoszek is really that interested in the NHL.

And that, ultimately, is what the NHL would be giving up here, even more than a sliver of TV revenues: leverage. Right now, cities undergoing arena battles face a slew of marginally believable bogeymen where their team could be said to be relocating to if they don’t agree to demands. If Vegas and Quebec get new teams, the league would pretty much be down to Seattle as a threat, and while one city will certainly suffice for this (look at what the NFL has done with L.A.), it’s less than ideal.

All of which is to say that Glendale officials should probably feel comfortable taking a hard line with the Arizona Coyotes owners in their lease battle. There’s reportedly been some progress in those talks, but if the worst-case scenario ends up being that the Coyotes might move back to a new arena in Phoenix, leaving that city stuck with how to keep afloat a money-losing franchise with subsidies, that’s the kind of chance that Glendale should feel comfortable taking.

UPDATE: Deadspin thinks that this is going to hurt the NHL’s leverage in getting the highest price for expansion teams, since now they can’t get a bidding war going. I’m less sure — the league can still refuse to assign any new teams at all if it doesn’t get what it wants — but this certainly doesn’t help the NHL’s racket, let’s put it that way.

No, the NBA doesn’t need to move the Bucks so it can make $1 billion

Today in bad journalistic math, we present an article by Business Insider’s Cork Gaines, which proposes that the NBA has a vested interest in the Milwaukee Bucks arena plan failing, since it would allow the league to take over the team and profit off of rising franchise values in the wake of its new TV deal:

If the Bucks fail to get a new arena approved, the NBA will buy back the Bucks and then turn around and sell it to the highest bidder in either Seattle or Las Vegas for as much as $1.6 billion. That would be a cool $1 billion profit for the other 29 NBA owners.

Another scenario would allow Edens and Lasry to keep the team and move it to Seattle (or Las Vegas) after paying the NBA a relocation fee, likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Under this scenario, the other NBA owners still get a hefty pay day and Bucks owners get to keep an NBA team in a new arena that is still worth more than the total amount they paid in 2014.

Anyone see the logical flaw here? (No, not that someone would pay $1.6 billion to put an NBA team in Las Vegas — we’ll get to that in a moment.) Come on, it’ll come to you. Let’s take a look at the chart that Business Insider included in its article (based on Forbes’ franchise value estimates), maybe that will help:

01-713-1Got it yet? Here’s the key: Those soaring franchise values are for all 30 NBA teams, including the Bucks. That means that even if the Bucks sit right where they are, they’re worth a whole lot more than they were a year earlier, thanks to the league’s new $24 billion TV deal that is already driving player salaries skywards.

Yes, since the NBA’s buyback agreement for the Bucks is fixed at $575 million, that’s an opportunity for the league to make some easy cash if it can get the franchise at a bargain price and then resell it. (This is assuming that the other 29 owners would actually go ahead with scarfing up the current Bucks owners’ equity for themselves, which seems like the kind of thing billionaires don’t do in polite company, but we’d see.) But if you’re including “let Edens and Lasry keep the team for a fee and move it to Las Vegas” in your scenarios, you also have to include “let Edens and Lasry keep the team for a fee and keep it in Milwaukee,” which could potentially be even more lucrative, given the nearly half-billion dollars in subsidies on the table, even if they don’t manage to get approved this year.

Meanwhile, $1.6 billion for a Seattle team, let alone a Las Vegas team, is completely insane, new arena or no. Keep in mind that the Atlanta Hawks, a team in a market bigger than either Seattle or certainly Las Vegas, were just sold for $730 million, a figure that had Forbes itself suggesting that sports franchise values have already peaked. And then take a look at the Forbes NBA valuation estimates: Only five teams are valued at $1.6 billion or higher, and all of them play in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Boston. The nearest markets in size to Seattle are Phoenix ($910 million) and Minneapolis ($625 million), and neither of those teams would be saddled with tens of millions in annual arena debt payments like a Chris Hansen-owned team would be in Seattle. So any potential sale payday here is probably closer to $100 million than $1 billion.

Anyway, all this is no doubt raising temperatures in the Wisconsin state legislature, where Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has started suggesting that a ticket surcharge could play a role in a revised Bucks arena funding plan. That’s potentially good news for Wisconsin taxpayers — ticket surcharges mostly end up coming out of team owners’ pockets, since it means they can’t raise ticket prices as high as they would otherwise without pricing themselves out of the market — but without any details it’s hard to say by how much, and Fitzgerald didn’t provide any. The Wisconsin legislature can be called back into session at any time to deal with this, so with no deal close at hand, best prepare yourself for a long, hot summer of this stuff — “window is closing” rhetoric or not, $457 million in cash and tax breaks is too rich a potential offer for either the Bucks owners or the NBA to turn their noses up at.

Bucks exec threatens move to “Vegas or Seattle,” er, that is, NBA would move team, yeah, those guys

Ooooh, he said it!

At an informational hearing held by the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, [Milwaukee Bucks president Peter] Feigin said the Bucks owners’ purchase agreement for the team includes a provision that construction of a new arena start in 2015. If that does not occur, he said the NBA will buy back the team for a $25 million profit and move them to “Las Vegas or Seattle.”…

“The window is closing,” Feigin said. “We can’t wait months, even weeks to start the public process.”

This, of course, has been the threat behind the arena demands of Feigin’s bosses, Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, ever since they bought the team early last year with the provision that the NBA could buy it back and move it if there was no deal in place for a new arena by 2017. (Whether this meant a new arena in place by 2017 or a deal in place by 2017 has been a topic of some debate, though Lasry himself seemed to indicate it was the latter.) But this is, I’m pretty certain, the first time that a Bucks exec has come out and said “Approve this deal now or the NBA shoots this team,” and absolutely the first time that anyone has dared name specific cities, which comes awfully close to a straight-out threat by the owners, even if the NBA is still cast in the role of the big bad.

So how real is the threat? The buyback clause is obviously there for a reason, and Seattle is both a TV market twice Milwaukee’s size and the home of a guy willing to both build a $500 million new arena and pay $625 million, plus relocation fees, for an NBA team to play in it. (Las Vegas is a tiny market, and its main association with the NBA is of an All-Star Game that everyone involved would seemingly rather forget.) That would represent a $50 million profit for the NBA if it bought the team off Lasry and Edens for $575 million (which would in turn be a $25 million profit for Lasry and Edens), and if that’s a crazy amount of money for Chris Hansen to be putting up for a team and arena — or more accurately, for an as-yet-unidentified Steve Ballmer 2.0 to be putting up — that would be Hansen’s problem, not the NBA’s.

On the other hand, this is the same decision that the NBA faced two years ago with the Sacramento Kings, and the league decided then to give Sacramento some more rope to get an arena deal finalized, even though that deal wasn’t any more approved at the time than Milwaukee’s is now. Plus, that was before Chris Hansen was revealed to have secretly funded a petition drive to keep the Kings from getting their Sacramento arena, which undoubtedly didn’t win any friends in NBA offices.

Still, that isn’t going to stop the NBA from using Seattle as a threat, because that’s what it’s there for. As to whether it would go ahead and consummate a deal if its bluff is called by the Wisconsin legislature — that’s a tougher guess, but I’d recommend putting your money on Milwaukee getting at least a couple more drop-dead deadlines if this one doesn’t work.

NHL to take expansion bids from Vegas, Quebec, Seattle, etc. because MONEYYYYYY

The NHL is taking bids on expansion franchises starting July 6, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to expand, but does mean it’s testing the waters. And given the price tag, it’s easy to see why:

That’s kind of aggressive, considering that Forbes estimates the average NHL team to be worth $490 million, and given the markets we’d be talking about here (more on that in a minute), these teams would be below average. But then, the magazine’s team value figures always seem to lag a bit behind actual sale prices — as Forbes notes, there’s a bit of a bubble thanks to the fact that “Wall Street guys like Joshua Harris (New Jersey Devils) and Andrew Barroway (trying to buy a controlling interest in the Arizona Coyotes) are willing to pay a lot of money for hockey teams that lose money.” (It also doesn’t hurt that they can get huge tax breaks on their purchase price.)

The next question, obviously, is where, and everybody from Deadspin to the New York Times is assuming that one of the cities will be Las Vegas. This seems pretty daft from here — Las Vegas would be the second-smallest NHL TV market (ahead of only Buffalo), it’s in the middle of the Sun Belt where hockey franchises go to die, and it has a relatively poor permanent population. (A proposed Vegas team has managed to get $150 deposits on 11,500 season tickets, though those are refundable if there’s no team starting in 2016.) But it does have a new arena going up, and those things are guaranteed gold mines, right?

If Vegas were one team, the other would likely be either Quebec (where telecom giant Quebecor is almost certain to throw its hat in the ring) or Seattle (which has interest but still no solid NHL arena plan). Quebec would actually be the smallest media market in the NHL (smaller than Flint, Michigan!), but it’s in Canada, so maybe that compensates? Also, new arena!

If nothing else, all this means that Glendale should probably feel relatively secure in playing hardball with the Coyotes owners over their lease, since the NHL is unlikely to encourage the team to move to a new city if that would jeopardize a half-billion dollars in expansion fees. And with that, let’s go look as some photos of the under-construction Las Vegas arena:

Yeah, that, um, looks like an arena. With two levels of luxury suites, which I guess is standard these days, but makes for just awful views from the top deck. But hey, not like anyone’s likely to be sitting up there anyway, amirite?

NY Post says NHL is going to give a Vegas expansion team to the Maloofs, BWAHAHAHA

The NHL gets lots of crap for being the league that lets people buy teams without bothering to check if they actually have the money to pay for them, and this is only likely to add to its legend: Yesterday’s New York Post reported that the NHL has already approved an ownership group for a not-yet-approved Las Vegas expansion team, and part of that group is the Maloof brothers. Yes, the Maloof brothers who campaigned against their own arena referendum in Sacramento, who threatened to move the Kings to Anaheim and Virginia Beach and Las Vegas before being forced to acknowledge that all those things weren’t happening, who had to be all but forcibly removed by the NBA in order to bring in an ownership group that the city of Sacramento would actually deign to give arena subsidies to. The ones who ESPN the Magazine ranked as the worst owners in all of pro sports. Those guys.

There’s still no timetable for a Vegas team, or any clear idea where it would play (though lord, will they have plenty of options), or really any confirmation of this beyond the unsourced Post report. But it looks like if and when the NHL expands, it’s extremely likely that we will have the Maloofs to kick around again. Rejoice, people.

 

Las Vegas’s crazy $1.4B retractable-roofed arena project announces groundbreaking

Holy crap, Jackie Robinson is really going ahead with his $1.4 billion arena-plus-shopping-district project for no one to play in:

Robinson plans a groundbreaking Wednesday to mark the construction start of a $1.4 billion arena, hotel and shopping project that has quietly moved ahead as a soccer stadium debate rages in Las Vegas, UNLV delayed its campus football stadium by two years and MGM Resorts International builds its $375 million, 20,000-seat arena behind New York-New York on the Strip.

Robinson’s privately funded arena will cost $690 million, and he has lined up an arena management heavyweight — Philadelphia-based Comcast-Spectacor — to schedule programming and manage the 22,000-seat retractable-roof arena.

Robinson apparently has pieced together $1.4 billion from realty financiers the Carlton Group and from the federal EB-5 program, which lets foreign nationals get expedited green cards in exchange for investing in U.S. construction projects, and which consequently has resulted in a lot of foreign money pouring into questionable U.S. projects. (“Apparently,” I say, because for now we only have Robinson’s word that this money actually exists.) In exchange, they will get a 22,000-seat arena that will compete with the existing Thomas & Mack Center and MGM-AEG’s new arena for concerts and maybe an NBA or NHL team — which probably isn’t coming anytime soon, and which in any case is certainly not going to pay any rent if it does, not with three arenas in the same town competing to be its home.

I know Vegas attract lots of concerts, but this still seems to be getting ridiculous — if anyone wants to nominate Robinson’s project as Most Likely to Be Sold in Bankruptcy Court Within Five Years, I’m right there with you. Or Most Likely to Be Permanent Vaportecture, for that matter. Though I would love to see what possible use they could come up with for a retractable arena roof in the middle of the desert…

Vegas would be “disaster” for NHL expansion, Seattle not much better, according to Fivethirtyeight’s numbers

Fivethirtyeight has taken a look at the hard numbers behind the possible NHL expansion targets [or at least as hard as you can get from counting up Google searches for “NHL” — see comments], and pretty much concurs with what I said off the top of my head the other day: Quebec could work, as could Toronto (leaving aside the pesky problem of the Maple Leafs wanting that market all for themselves), but Seattle and especially Vegas would be pretty lousy NHL sites:

Teams in markets with fewer than 300,000 hockey fans, however, have tended to lose money, and that’s where the wisdom of adding franchises in Seattle and (especially) Las Vegas gets iffy. We estimated that Seattle contains about 240,000 NHL fans — fewer than that of Phoenix and Florida’s Tampa Bay, home to two franchises that have struggled to turn a profit for many years. And if Seattle is an enigmatic choice by this metric, Las Vegas would be a disaster. According to our estimates, there are only 91,000 hockey fans in the Vegas media market, which is nearly 40 percent fewer than even Nashville, Tennessee, the least-avid current NHL city, has.

Interestingly, Fivethirtyeight estimates that Kingston and Halifax, and maybe even Moncton, Sherbrooke or Sudbury, could viably support an NHL team better than the U.S. cities under consideration — and better even than five current NHL cities, Phoenix, Columbus, Raleigh-Durham, Miami, and Nashville — thanks to the fact that there are actually people who like to watch hockey in Canada. No doubt there are other factors here at work as well — TV networks, in particular, care as much about overall media market size as whether the market contains any actual hockey fans — but it’s still a worthwhile reminder that just because a city has possible arena plans and some name recognition doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good place to start up a sports franchise.

NHL to add four new teams for $1.4B by 2017 purple monkey dishwasher

If you loved last March’s unsourced rumors about how the NHL is ready to expand, expand, expand, you’ll love today’s similarly unsourced rumors about the exact same thing! Take it away, Tony Gallagher of British Columbia’s The Province:

Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City…

A new team close to the newly renamed Arizona squad and California’s big three is all but assured, the only question being when and with which other city. Or should that be plural?

With all the activity going on in the Seattle area in the last little bit it would be quite a stretch to imagine that much time and effort being spent by so many wealthy men being frittered away for nothing.

(Is it just me, or does this entire thing read like a gossip column? I kept waiting for “What mid-sized city was spotted on the dance floor, cavorting with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly?”)

As Deadspin notes, Howard Bloom of Sports Business News then upped the ante by predicting that Quebec, Seattle, Las Vegas, and a second Toronto team will all be joining the NHL by 2017, in exchange for $1.4 billion in expansion fees.

This is simultaneously crazy and not-crazy. On the not-crazy side, $1.4 billion, people! In a world where Steve Ballmer is willing to plunk down $2 billion for an NBA team, and MLS franchises are going like hotcakes, it would be foolish not to at least consider taking some of the money that the world’s billionaires are waving around like drunken sailors.

On the crazy side, with the exception of Quebec, all of these are seriously problematic markets. Seattle doesn’t have an arena that really fits hockey, and any hopes of building one would depend on the NBA first approving a new basketball team for Seattle, which doesn’t sound like it’s happening anytime soon. Vegas is Vegas, which is a small, poor city with a bunch of people with lots of spending money visiting all the damn time, which isn’t a great recipe for season ticket sales. Toronto would run up against the Maple Leafs corporate buzzsaw, which would undoubtedly try to seize a chunk of that expansion fee as payment for incursions into its territory.

So, there are some stumbling blocks that make one wonder if Gary Bettman has really thought this thing out. (Not that thinking things out in advance has exactly been Bettman’s strong point in the past.) If the reports are true, and NHL officials are thinking clearly, it seems far more likely that this is a trial balloon designed to see what arena concessions they can get by waving a possible expansion team under a few municipal noses. Guess we’ll find out soon enough — 2017 isn’t that far away.

Ginormous Vegas project with retractable-roofed basketball arena gets go-ahead, just needs ginormous check

Remember that $1.3 billion project featuring a basketball arena with a retractable roof because of course a retractable roof that a former NBA journeyman named Jackie Robinson announced he wanted to build last December? You’ve been trying to forget about it and hoping it would go away, haven’t you? Well, Robinson hasn’t, and now he’s gotten it approved by the Clark County Commission:

The approval is a first step for the proposed $1.3 billion project spearheaded by former UNLV basketball and NBA player Jackie Robinson. The plans presented today also include a 44-story hotel, a movie theater and an events plaza with food and retail.

So now all he needs is, let’s see, $1.3 billion. Robinson has said he doesn’t plan on asking for public money or tax breaks, though he has mentioned the possibility of EB-5 green-cards-for-loans financing; more to the point, it sounds like he won’t build anything until he gets an NBA team, which good luck with that. And even if he does get one, the way things are going in the sports franchise value game, he’d have to pay up close to a billion dollars either for an existing one or an expansion franchise, which means then he’d need two point three billion, and … I guess this could happen, but I’m still not holding my breath just yet.

Mostly, I’m pleased that this news has given KLAS-TV the chance to run the most directly honest headline I’ve seen in a while:

Plenty of plans for Las Vegas arenas

Ain’t that the truth.

Las Vegas hockey team not building inflatable arena on casino roof after all

Aw, man! That Las Vegas minor-league hockey arena on a casino rooftop that sounded too crazy to work turns out, in fact, to be too crazy to work:

The Las Vegas Wranglers hockey team Wednesday has pulled the plug on its ice rink-arena project at the Plaza hotel parking lot in downtown Las Vegas because it cost too much, leaving fans wondering about the team’s future in Las Vegas.

“We’re disappointed. It was a cost issue. It was a time issue,” said Billy Johnson, Wranglers president. “It’s heart-breaking for me.”

Johnson said he will pursue “other opportunities” to find a new home ice for the independent Double-A East Coast Hockey League team, but acknowledged that there’s “always that chance” that the Wranglers’ next season — and future in Las Vegas — could be jeopardized.

The Wranglers had already modified their plan to put the arena in the casino parking lot instead of on the roof, because building an inflatable 3,500-seat arena on a rooftop turned out to be, surprise surprise, crazy expensive. Except apparently it’s too expensive to build in the parking lot, too. With the Wranglers actually kicked out of their current home at the Orleans Arena as of this fall, it seems pretty likely that the team will now relocate, but maybe somebody else has some more crazy ideas up their sleeve.