Hey NHL: relocation, relocation, relocation


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BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Call it irony for this to be emanating from a seat in Winnipeg, but NHL owners should focus on contraction and not expansion.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/12/2014 (2916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Call it irony for this to be emanating from a seat in Winnipeg, but NHL owners should focus on contraction and not expansion.

Too many nights there are players on the ice that don’t meet the standard, and adding one or two teams and 50 new players would be a mistake.

Oh, and for those of you who are currently big fans of the officiating in the league, imagine adding four to six rookie referees to the pool and the same number of linesmen. Sorry, bigger isn’t always better.

The NHL can’t only be about what works for broadcast partners. The product has to be protected and expansion runs counter to this.

Expansion money will buoy franchises for a short time, but business models with faulty foundations will eventually fail.

Put a bullet in Arizona and Florida and strengthen the league, rather than further water it down.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Monday he is prepared to give U.S. businessman William Foley permission to conduct a season ticket drive in Las Vegas.

Bettman has more exit options than the Florida turnpike, but it’s clear the league is now interested in adding a team or two. Vegas and its soon to open state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility are clearly in the league.

But why add now? Too many markets don’t work and the talent pool is diluted. Certainly, this has to go into any consideration of the league’s future.

“We’re getting lots of expressions of interest from places that don’t have teams, which is very gratifying. And it may be that we’re not interested in expansion when push comes to shove. Ultimately it’s going to be a board of governors decision. But you guys keep writing that we’re expanding by multiple teams,” said Bettman. “Frankly, if there’s no expression of interest (from fans) I think it’s good for Mr. Foley to know that, so he can pursue other things, and if there is, that’s better data in terms of understanding what the level of interest is.”

Is Vegas a slam dunk? Taking Bettman on his word, the answer is no. The NHL is just dipping its toe into the waters of expansion. But it’s a foregone conclusion — they will like the temperature.

Vegas has the cash to support a major professional franchise and now that a league is finally willing to consider the market as a legitimate venture, there is no way the business and political hitters there will allow the process to fail.

No, regardless of how hard Bettman wanted to stand on the brakes, it’s clear this train is now steaming down the tracks. Vegas is very likely getting an NHL franchise.

Relocation to Winnipeg, and the manner in which it has flourished, has very likely emboldened some members of the NHL elite. Hey, if this league can work in little old Winnipeg, certainly it can work in a big U.S. market. Wrong.

The greatest lesson in Winnipeg, however, is that less is more. Mark Chipman and David Thomson created an unquenchable thirst for tickets when they built the MTS Centre at 15,000 seats.

Hockey tickets are hard to get in Winnipeg. So if you get one, you hold on to it. And if you don’t, you watch the game on TV or listen on the radio.

The market is underserved, and as such is stable and viable.

The Jets could trade for Sidney Crosby and it would still be the second-best move the franchise ever made. Building the NHL’s smallest building is, and will always be, the best decision made by True North.

The league’s urge to grow its business is understandable. But it’s folly.

Of course, contraction is never going to happen. The NHL would never consider having less than 30 teams.

So relocate. It’s the lesser of two evils. Vegas is going to work and Bettman admitted Monday the league wouldn’t need to test Quebec City in a similar manner if it were to come under serious consideration.

These markets make sense on several levels — much more so than the ridiculous boondoggles we’ve witnessed in Sunrise, Fla. and Glendale, Ariz.

Where is it written a relocation fee can’t match an expansion fee? An extra $100 million isn’t going to stop Las Vegas or Quebec City. Bettman has both markets right where he wants them.

Desperate for his league.

Less is more, guys. Especially when you can get that expansion/relocation juice, too.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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