Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Toronto Media = NHL Expansion Committee

Sometimes, I am amazed at how much the city of Toronto seems to think they know about hockey in the country of Canada. The Big Smoke, also known as The Centre of the Universe, has a fairly successful hockey team in terms of making money, and they have a pretty strong following. Of course, Toronto is also home to TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, and the latter had an interesting tidbit on its website today. You can read it here, or continue reading below where I've conveniently copied the article.

According to, "[i]n the never-ending story, there is talks once again of bringing an NHL team back to Winnipeg, buoyed by the strength of the Canadian dollar.

"In a report in the Toronto Star, a high-ranking hockey source says the league receives daily calls about bringing a franchise back to Manitoba.

"Although still unlikely, the path has already been cleared should the league ever decide to return to Winnipeg. The NHL contacted Canadian regulators to reinforce its trademark on the Winnipeg Jets name and there is a brand new hockey venue in the MTS Centre waiting for a major league partner."

Since this little morsel of information is based on a Toronto Star report, I went searching there to see on what the Star based its information. It turns out that the writer, Mr. Rick Westhead, actually wrote this, and it can be found here:

"With the Canadian dollar's recent surge there's been debate over the prospect of the NHL returning to Winnipeg. "The people in Winnipeg call the league pretty much every day about a team, more than anybody else," one high-ranking hockey source says. If the NHL does decide to add another team in Manitoba, things would seem in place for a smooth return. The old Winnipeg Arena was demolished a decade ago and the $133 million (Canadian) MTS Centre, which seats 15,003 for hockey, opened three years ago. The NHL earlier this year contacted Canadian regulators to reinforce its trademark on the Winnipeg Jets name."

I've been over this topic on this site before, having written the articles entitled Living In Dreamland and Living In Dreamland: Gimme A Break. Winnipeg is not an NHL city at this point in time.

Yes, the fans in Winnipeg are rabid for big-time hockey. They have proven that they can pack the fans in the MTS Centre for the World Junior Championships, the Women's World Championships, and NHL hockey.

However, as it was proven when the Jets left Winnipeg, they don't have the same mentality about hockey as, say, the people in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The fans in Winnipeg cared about the Jets - it was their mark on North American professional sports, after all. Some great NHL players have passed through Winnipeg during their careers: Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Kent Nilsson, Dale Hawerchuk, Randy Carlyle, Phil Housley, Craig Janney, Nikolai Khabibulin, and Teemu Selanne to name a few. The Jets were the team where players like Bryan Marchment, Dave Ellett, Bob Essensa, and Keith Tkachuk got their big breaks.

The problem, though, is that at any given Winnipeg Jets home game, there were just as many fans of the opposing teams in the stands as there were Jets fans. Unlike the fans in Minneapolis, who have sold out every game since the Wild returned including preseason games, the fans in Winnipeg would only come out to see the star players from opposing teams, and would turn up sparse crowds for teams like the Ottawa Senators of the early-1990s. That's not how you support a team whatsoever.

Randy Turner, sports writer for the Winnipeg Free Press, wrote in an April article, "Seriously, who can figure out Winnipeg hockey fans? They didn't support the Jets when they were here, but cry crocodile tears now that they're gone - to the point where in some quarters the Moose are considered poster boys for the loss of the NHL". And you know what? He is completely right.

He also wrote, "Have you seen Kevin Bieksa play defence for the Canucks? He anchors the Vancouver blue-line, is featured on the power play and is tough as year-old beef jerky.

"Last year, Bieksa did exactly the same thing for the Moose. But so-called 'real' hockey fans in Winnipeg would never have seen him play in person, what with Moose hockey not being up to their standards and all. Moose call-up Jannik Hansen is drawing rave reviews in the playoffs only a few days after being plucked from the Manitoba roster"

Randy Turner has identified the problem with Winnipeg hockey fans. Despite Winnipeg's love of hockey, Turner's accuracy in describing the major problem with hockey fans in Winnipeg is dead-on. Winnipeg doesn't support their AHL team very well, Winnipeg didn't support their WHL team in the Winnipeg Warriors, and they didn't support their NHL team in the Jets. Do you see a trend forming here?

Another problem is that the corporate support needed to support an NHL franchise at that time wasn't there to support the Jets, and there has been little headway in attracting major corporations to Winnipeg since the Jets left. I wrote this before: "I have pointed out that when the Jets left Winnipeg, their total salary was $27 million. The salary cap has been increased to near $50 million. There is no one in Winnipeg who wants to own a franchise outright. There are no multi-billionaires sitting around in Winnipeg with money burning a hole in their pockets". This situation has not changed since May. Mark Chipman, owner of the AHL's Manitoba Moose, has already said that he does not want to own an NHL franchise by himself. This puts the Winnipeg NHL dream right back at square one: no one person wants to take on that risk of losing millions of dollars in a city where the NHL has failed once already.

I've said it before - Winnipeg "is not an NHL town. It never was once the sky-rocketing salaries of the early-1990s began. This is why great players were jettisoned regularly from the Jets franchise. Dale Hawerchuk, Phil Housley, Dave Ellett, Teemu Selanne, Fredrik Olausson, Tie Domi... all traded or let go as free agents. When the NHL left Winnipeg, the salary of the Jets totalled $27 million dollars. With the new CBA, the maximum spenditure is almost double that figure."

I have heard enough about Winnipeg getting an NHL team back. Frankly, this discussion should be put to rest, and Gary Bettman, the media, and those people with fantasies about the Jets returning should be told to stop stringing the city of Winnipeg along.

Expansion in Winnipeg would be trendy for a while, but no one will wait five-to-ten years for the Jets to become competitive. Relocation would be an ideal proposition, but the trend of Winnipeggers not supporting their local professional hockey team should be the first paragraph on the market research report about the city of Winnipeg.

Winnipeg, you have a great city that should be setting AHL attendance records each and every year. However, you don't, and you shouldn't be allowed to apply for an NHL team until you've supported a smaller professional hockey franchise first. You've lost the NHL, the WHL, and the AHL isn't doing as well as it should in a market your size. Stop talking about the NHL. You don't deserve it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

Bettman is the one holding up expansion in Canada. He'd rather have a team in Las Vegas where no one knows what hockey is.

Teebz said...

Um, in case you missed the entire post (which I am going to assume you did, based on your comment), my argument was AGAINST expansion, not for it.

Winnipeg is not an NHL city. Its poor hockey track record stands for itself.

Kirsten said...

We need to have less teams in this league, definitely not more. There are many struggling franchises as is, the NHL doesn't need one more. The people of Winnipeg came out to support Canada at the WJC in Grand Forks, and that was pretty fun, but it doesn't constitute NHL level support.

Anonymous said...

I'm always kind of mystified by that fact that actual professional journalists keep making the argument that the high Canadian dollar means Winnipeg (and Quebec) are viable NHL markets again. Because they seem to be going on the assumption that the fact that the dollar is high now means it will be high forever, when a glance at exchange rates over the last 30 years shows that it's been volatile. They're essentially asking some franchise owner to bet the farm on the exchange rate staying around where it is now. I'm no expert in foreign exchange, but that's not a bet I'd take.

And weren't both Winnipeg and Quebec already in some difficulty before the Canadian dollar took its mid-90s plunge? I seem to recall talk of both teams possibly moving as early as around 1991-92, and I know the Cdn$ was still around 90 cents then, because we got so much cross-border shopping traffic around where I was in college at the time. I recall it being around 1993-94 when it fell from the mid-80s to the mid-70s, and a couple years later when it really bottomed out in the 60s. That may have been the final nail in the coffin for those teams, but as your analysis points out, that wasn't the only weakness in the market.

Dear Lord Stanley said...

Two things bug me: any talk of expansion and those annoying bastards at spamming the hell out of blog comment threads.

Teebz, you're dead on in this post and I commend you for having the bravery to tell an entire Canadian city to shut the hell up already.

Teebz said...

Kirsten - you're absolutely right. In fact, I am preparing another long diatribe about how the NHL should abandon its US expansion idea, and go back to hockey the way it was in the 1980s before expansion. I'll have that posted soon.

Sarah - the NHL in Quebec and Winnipeg were suffering prior to the mid-1990s in terms of spending money. While the reasons were different, the results were the same: neither team could afford to bleed that much red ink any longer. The fans in both cities stopped showing up, and that was the major reason for the moves.

DLS - I have no problem with cities dreaming of becoming an NHL city. The problem I have is that everytime someone mentions expansion, Winnipeg comes up as "the perfect location". It's not. In fact, if I were the commish, I'd be taking a long look at contraction right now. As I said to Kirsten, more on that in the next few days. :o)

Great comments everyone, except that FireBettman joker. Love the discussion.

Jibblescribbits said...

I don't think contraction is a good plan. Winnipeg is definitely not a good expansion place.

Expansions coming, whether we like it or not. The best cities for expansion would be Milwaukee, and/or Seattle. (Especially if/when they lose their basketball team).

I don't think contraction is really the option either. watch an old game and a new one and I think it's pretty obvious the skill level is better now than it was then.

Teebz said...

Jibble - the difference between then and now is the talent. Specifically, there was more talent on less teams, meaning the level of play was higher at any point of the game.

The problem is that the game has changed significantly. There is no comparison between then and now, and there never will be. Gone are the days when a player can score 200 points in a season. However, I firmly believe that expansion will only lead to mre problems before it leads to solutions.

As for Milwaukee and Seattle, Milwaukee has an AHL team that is somewhat successful. Why ruin that? And Seattle has the WHL's Thunderbirds. Why kill off a great CHL team for the sake of the NHL? The NHL would be wise to step back and make their product better before expanding again.

Jibblescribbits said...

Well the point was more or less, that expansion is coming, and the NHL will have 2 more teams. Everyon's talking about Hamilton, Las Vegas, and KC, and to soem extent Winnipeg but I thought the two most successful locations for a franchise would be Seattle and Milwaukee.

That said, with international players coming, more or less the last 25 years, there are more teams, but there is more talent on the ice. You're right that there's probably nor need to expand, and that the current markets need to be cultivated more before the league is ready for that, but Betteman has always seen expansion as a way to make a quick buck, and has never understood what goes into expansion to make it successful.

Kirsten said...

Putting a pro hockey team in Wisconsin would be a joke. They have a semi successful AHL team, but they could NEVER support a NHL team. Hockey is not a thriving sport in the land where the Green Bay Packers are god. My dad had never really heard of/about hockey much less seen it until he married my mom and moved to Minnesota. He still isn't really sold on it, preferring dumb sports like football and basketball.

Jibblescribbits said...

See I disagree, as they have one of the most storied College programs in the country. I have multiple friends from Wisconsin and they were all some sort of hockey fans. If Milwaukee can support a pro basketball team, it can support hockey.

Besides the same could be said of Colorado before the Avs came to town. There were a few hockey teams, and the WHL team (the Grizzlies) were doing well but on one thought it would catch on... But it did pretty easily (a Stanley cup helps too)

Rob Williams said...

alright guys, im talking from canada and i can tell you that the best market for a canadian team in the states is worse than any market in the united states. Putting another team into the united states is only going to lose money for someone that invests into it. expecially somewhere like LV or KC. Winnipeg has a better cance of supporting a team no matter where you think of putting one in the states. all the cities that have a fanbase are already taken, sometimes by more than one team. none of you have even thought about mentioning Halifax Nova scotia as a possible place for a team whether relocation or expansion. I also say that expansion is a bad idea, relocation is the key. the markets like florida (panthers not TB) need to be relocated to someplace northern where people have actually seen snow or ice on the ground. even thinking about putting another team in the states is a joke. Coming up in canada basically means that someone your with is obsessed with hockey. its is basically a religion in Toronto. Hamilton would have more support from New York than any of the NY teams have now. The league was afraid of taking some success away from toronto but that is imposible the fan base is too deep.
Teebz - when you say that half the people going to watch winnipeg games were from the away teams... think of an ottawa toronto game. When the leafs play in ottawa there are more toronto fans than there are ottawa.
Halifax is already a super successful QMJHL franchise city and the AHL used to be in fredericton moncton and saint john New Brunswick. SJ and Moncton both have successful Q teams now as well. The fan bases for hockey anywhere in the maritimes is astounding. its like an untapped market resource. so as for anywhere in the US being a better spot than winnipeg, hamilton, quebec or Halifax, everyone that has posted here is out of their minds.

Teebz said...

rwil26 - I'm going to word this carefully.

St. John's Maple Leafs, Saint John Flames, Cape Breton Oilers, Moncton Hawks, Maine Mariners, Nova Scotia Voyageurs, Halifax Citadels, Prince Edward Island Senators. What's the common item about these teams?

All were AHL teams, and all moved or folded. 8 minor-league teams which require significantly less money to run than an NHL team, and none were making money. And now you want an NHL team?

Not going to happen anytime soon. Winnipeg will get a team before Halifax does. And Winnipeg should never have a team.

Anonymous said...

why would you expand more in the U.S.? When most of the games you see on tv with a U.S. team have a half empty arena. Nova Scotia with a hockey NHL team sounds good to me. Nova Scotia is home to just a little less than 950,000 people, im pretty sure that Toronto doesnt only get support from people who live in Toronto, considering the fact that im going to Boston to see a game...and i live in Nova Scotia. Halifax would get support from fans from all over the province and the neighboring ones too. As for the Mooseheads i've been to some of their games, they don't get nearly as much advertisement as an NHL team, which means the Mooseheads have less attention then they would if they had better advertisement. Most of the people i know like hockey and love the NHL, even some of the people you don't expect to like hockey do. Halifax getting an NHL team would be great but, you never know what will happen.

Raging Ranter said...

Much as I'd love to see a team back in Winnipeg, the Peg is really the one Canadian city that has scarcely grown at all in the past 20 years. The population base is, therefore, roughly the same as when the Jets last played there in 1996.

I dug up one of my old Jets tickets stubs from 1991 the other day. It was $12.00. For a regular season game - not an exhibition game. To support an NHL team today, that ticket would have to be at least $75.00, and possibly much more. Will Winnipegers, who averaged just over 11,000 per game in 1996, be able to fill a 15,000 seat arena every night if tickets cost a minimum $75? I highly doubt it.

Again, don't get me wrong. I'd love to see the Jets back in the Peg. I just really don't know if it can work. These annoying little facts (like previous poor attendance despite unbelievably low ticket prices) keep getting in the way of my enthusiasm.

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Anonymous said...

you pesky little winnipegers