Monday, 20 July 2015

Just Not Ready

With the NHL expansion process underway, it appears the situation that Gary Bettman hoped to "bring some certainty to" will remain rather uncertain after it was announced that three separate groups from Seattle will not be submitting an expansion application to the NHL. While there still could be opportunities for these Seattle groups to jump into the expansion pool, it looks like they won't be in play for whenever the NHL feels the need to add teams in the immediate future. Seattle is still without an arena, though, so this is probably better for all than having these groups pushing head with an expansion plan.

According to Bill Daly, the league will not consider any party who did not meet Monday’s hard deadline, so the timetable to get an arena in place suddenly doesn't become a time crunch had a group put the expansion process in motion. Having an NHL-ready arena is paramount to having an NHL team, so having one or more of these groups work on building an arena first now allows them to look at a long-term project plan that includes both an arena and an NHL team rather than having to play catch-up if an expansion bid was accepted.

The other factor that may have had Seattle backing away from the expansion process is the $10 million application fee with the $2 million non-refundable price tag. With no arena in place, there was a good chance that the NHL rejected any plan that didn't include the building of an arena, and none of the three groups in the Seattle area have even broken ground on an arena. When you add another $400 million for an arena to the $500 million, the billion-dollar price tag for the new expansion franchise without even hiring a body to man the operation is also a little intimidating for those who may not have an extra billion dollars laying around.

What is surprising is that there were only two expansion bids submitted - Las Vegas and Quebec City. Markham, Ontario was interested in a second team in the Greater Toronto Area and is pushing for a new arena, but doesn't have one yet, didn't bid. Kansas City, who has the brand-new Sprint Center all ready to go, has no interested ownership groups at the $500 million price tag. Portland, Oregon doesn't have an arena for hockey thanks to Paul Allan controlling the Rose Garden. Milwaukee, Wisconsin is trying to fund a new arena for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and there was hope that it could house an NHL team, but that ludicrous price tag keeps owners from buying in.

Of course, just because Las Vegas and Quebec City have submitted bids doesn't mean they're getting a team. There's still a long process to go through when it comes to putting a team on the ice, and we might be talking years down the road before either of these cities has a franchise awarded to it. What the NHL has done, though, is vetted the pretenders from the contenders when it comes to intention and financial backing. Those that were caught up in the dream of being an NHL city are realizing that this dream will require a lot of greenbacks before its realized as a team on the ice, and only two groups stepped forward with plans into which the NHL has to look.

Quebecor, a massive media and telecommunications company in Quebec, will dry-run their new arena, the 18,259-seat Videotron Centre, on September 28 when the Montreal Canadiens host the Pittsburgh Penguins in an NHL preseason game. Being a media and telecommunications company, they would probably have the inside track on broadcast rights to any Quebec City-based team since they own it and the French-broadcasting rights through TVA Sports. In other words, this brings Quebecor to the forefront as a legitimate French broadcast partner, and we may see RDS pushed out of Quebec NHL broadcasts altogether if the NHL pursues a larger deal with Quebecor.

Las Vegas has a ton of money, an arena going up, and a vast potential to earn dollars, but that potential has to be realized. Selling 13,500 seats for a deposit of less than half the price of one ticket, let alone the price of season tickets, just means there are a lot of people who have $50 to spend. While these people are on the hook to buy season tickets with the Las Vegas NHL franchise, there's no guarantee that all of them will follow through if and when the NHL awards a franchise to Sin City. After all, if the franchise isn't awarded until 2018, how many people will be in the same place they are no financially and personally in three years?

Again, the idea of this bid is that it guarantees nothing other than the NHL knowing there is interest from a group in a specific city. Franchises will not be given out to anyone who antes up the money, and there is a process that the NHL will go through to ensure that not only are the parties ready for expansion, but the NHL is as well. As it stands, only two parties appear ready to take the next step if and when it is presented to them, and the NHL will need to make some decisions moving forward as to how they want to proceed.

Make no mistake, though: the NHL is one step closer to having the Nordiques and Black Knights under their watch.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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