Bettman: No, NHL isn’t offering expansion teams, and they’ll cost way more than that anyway

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?

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.

Poll on whether Red Wings arena will create jobs finds that journalists are addicted to stupid polls

Let’s talk about polls. Polls can be very useful things when you want to know what people want, whether it’s who they want to vote for in the next election, or what policies they want to pursue, or whether they hate where they live. They are not so useful when you’re asking about statements of fact: Trying to determine whether the Higgs boson exists by polling people on the street, I think we can all agree, would be pretty pointless.

This, then, is a very, very bad poll:

Poll: Are job projections for new Detroit Red Wings arena development accurate?

Right now “no” is handily beating “yes,” with “I have no idea” a close third. Sadly, there’s no option for “Wait, you’re asking me?”

Glendale mayor seeks to overturn Coyotes lease after email shows councilmembers talked in secret

It’s baaaaaaaaaaack!

Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers on Monday asked the state attorney general to investigate a previously undisclosed meeting of City Council members and an Arizona Coyotes attorney last June, days before the council approved a $225 million agreement with the team…

Violations of the Open Meeting Law can rescind actions taken by elected officials, which could potentially void Glendale’s deal with the team, which was then called the Phoenix Coyotes.

It’s been just slightly over a year since the Arizona Coyotes signed a new 15-year lease where the city of Glendale will pay them $15 million a year to play hockey in the arena that Glendale built for them. (They were the Phoenix Coyotes then, but as part of the lease the team owners agreed to change its name. But not to “Glendale Coyotes,” that’d be crazy.) It was one of the most generous sports deals in history, and only passed after councilmember Sammy Chavira made a last-second switch, so if it turns out that the whole thing was illegal, that’d be kind of a big deal.

Now, Mayor Weiers opposed the lease deal, so it’s not entirely unsurprising that he’s looking into trying to undo it. But according to emails obtained by the Arizona Republic, the evidence is kind of damning: Councilmember Gary Sherwood emailed councilmember Manny Martinez that he and councilmember Yvonne Knaack “spent over an hour with [incoming Coyotes attorney] Nick Wood last night,” and that “Sammy [Chavira] is already on board as he was with us last night.” Adding self-incrimincation to injury, Sherwood added, “Manny, please delete this email after you’ve read it.”

(Asked about this by the Republic, Sherwood defended holding secret discussions outside of public view by saying that he and Knaack only spoke with Wood over the phone, then spoke with Martinez and Chavira later. Which would still likely be a violation of the state Open Meeting Law, but hey, it worked for Cobb County.)

We’re still a long way from the Coyotes deal coming close to being overturned — among other things, even if last year’s vote turns out to be illegal, the council could just vote to reaffirm the new lease, this time without any hanky-panky. But if nothing else, this means we have more Glendale craziness to look forward to, which is always fun.

Broward mayor seeks analysis of costs of letting Panthers leave, ignoring 14 years left on lease

Well, now, this is interesting, kind of:

You might not be able to tell from her @bestmom39 handle, but Barbara Sharief is mayor of Broward County, and she here seems to be indicating that she’s asking an economic consultant to do a cost/benefit analysis of letting the Florida Panthers move out of the county rather than giving them $80 million. How much the Panthers’ presence is worth to Broward is a reasonable analysis to ask for — though given that the Panthers’ lease isn’t up until 2028, and Panthers owner Vincent Viola isn’t actually promising to stay any longer that I can tell in exchange for the $80 million, it’s worth wondering if maybe Sharief is asking the wrong question.

Red Wings promise to build “deconstructed” arena with public’s $300 million

The Detroit Red Wings issued renderings of their planned $450 million arena yesterday, and it’s … kind of interesting-looking, I guess?

Those buildings surrounding the arena are actually part of the arena, with the space between that and the arena structure proper being the concessions concourses. (Another rendering shows what appear to be glass roofs over the concourses, maybe?) The Red Wings are calling this a “deconstructed” design, and it’s something interesting to try, anyway, if only because it would make the arena a bit less monolithic from the outside. (Setting the arena floor 32 feet below ground level would help, too.)

It’s still not necessarily worth spending $300 million in public money and free land on, of course. But since that’s now water under the bridge, at least it’ll be nice if they can avoid a major public eyesore.

Sharks could move from San Jose without reworked cable deal, says notoriously unreliable columnist

San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy has speculated wildly before, so take this with a huge grain of salt, but: Purdy is now reporting that the owners of the San Jose Sharks are so unhappy with the cable TV deal that their former CEO signed in 2009 that they’ve brought in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to threaten that they’ll move out of San Jose if they don’t get more TV money:

Bettman has contacted high-level honchos at Comcast corporate offices in Philadelphia to see if the Sharks’ local television deal can be reworked. Comcast is the parent company of Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area, which broadcasts Shark games. So far, the Bettman talks have not been fruitful…

In the most extreme version of the narrative, there is no creative solution and the Sharks continue to drain money. Plattner then tires of the red ink and decides to move the team outside the Bay Area market — where he could negotiate a better TV deal and abandon his current one here.

Sounds extreme. And almost unthinkable. That is likely why Bettman became involved. Comcast is also the parent company of NBC, which holds the NHL national broadcast rights. The decision to award an outdoor game to the Bay Area next season, which will soon be announced at either AT&T Park (most likely) or Levis Stadium (still possible), could be a bone thrown out to Comcast in hopes of currying favor.

Purdy then drops that line of thinking and talks about how the Sharks may want a new arena “sooner rather than later,” because their current one in 21 years old and maybe Santa Clara could build a hockey rink to go with their new San Francisco 49ers stadium and … it’s either team-prompted trial balloons or a desperate attempt to fill column inches and get hits on a slow news day. You make the call.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets arena still a money pit for taxpayers

This time last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ Nationwide Arena was reported to be turning a $500,000-a-year profit since its takeover by Franklin County in a much-maligned bailout plan — a profit that disappears once you take into account that the county is subsidizing arena operations with $4 million a year in subsidies. And how are things going now?

The arena spent most of its second year under public ownership operating at a deficit.

A recent rally, thanks to special events that included Bruce Springsteen, Cher and Demi Lovato, has nudged the arena $426,000 into the black, according to the latest revenue report.

Again, that’s “in the black” if you don’t count the annual county subsidies to the arena, meaning the building is actually losing more than $3 million a year, but Franklin County taxpayers are making up the difference.

And why is this, tell us, Columbus Dispatch?

Put simply, the contracts allow everyone else to make money from the arena except taxpayers.

The Blue Jackets take all concession and parking revenue for all hockey-related events. Performers, such as Springsteen, demand a certain percentage of all ticket sales (usually 85 percent or more) before agreeing to come to Columbus.

The public also pays for improvements inside the arena, such as the nets on the hockey goals. More than $900,000 in public money was spent in the past year to replace and repair seats.

That’s right: Columbus area taxpayers are paying for hockey nets for a team that keeps 100% of the revenues from hockey games. Also, cue the jokes about why they need to replace seats when they’ve barely been used in the first place.

Flames exec after nine straight years of sellouts: This arena blows, we need a new one

The last time we heard anything about the Calgary Flames‘ arena demands was nearly two years ago, when team execs said they were watching the Edmonton Oilers‘ plans closely; before that, it was way back in 2009 when team CEO Ken King said he hoped to start construction on a new building “as soon as we can.”

Cue Flames president for hockey operations Brian Burke, who yesterday let loose with both barrels at the 31-year-old Calgary Saddledome, calling it “a 1988 building” and “embarrassing”:

“An update on our new home? You know what? We need a new building. Obviously, everyone knows that,” said Burke, president of hockey operations for the Flames, responding to a question from the audience. “We have the finest state-of-the-art 1988 building in the (National Hockey League).”

This is, of course, a time-honored tradition in sports, slagging your current home in an attempt to shame elected officials into helping you build a new one. Of course, given that nothing is imminent on that front — even King admitted back in January that “It’s our hope to announce something, I guess when we’re ready, and we’re not there yet” — you’d think he’d want to worry about driving fans away by telling them their home arena is a dump, but given that the Flames have sold out every game for the last nine years, maybe not. Though it does make you wonder why they “need a new building,” except as a way to make more revenue off of luxury suites and the like, which would more honestly be stated as “We want more money.”