Saturday, 16 May 2009

Bettman Vs. Teebz

I can't believe that I am writing this, but this had better be the last time that Gary Bettman brings up Winnipeg when referring to moving an NHL franchise. I thought I had beat the dead horse enough when trying to explain why Winnipeg is not an NHL town, but some people either don't read this blog (99.9% probable) or they simply aren't listening (Bettman listen to a blogger?). So I will go over the finer points again. Winnipeg, for all the good intentions that Gary Bettman has towards the city, is not an NHL city. It will never be an NHL city in the next decade, and we need to put this false hope to bed now before this gets out of hand.

How did this turn of events come about? According to an affidavit filed in a Phoenix courtroom on Friday, lawyer Earl Scudder, a lawyer hired by Jerry Moyes, stated that he was told by Bettman that Hamilton was not an ideal location for an NHL franchise "because Copps Coliseum is over 30 years old". He also stated that Bettman informed him that "if the team did return to Canada, it would be to Winnipeg". Scudder's affidavit also states that Bettman informed him that the only way southern Ontario will receive another team is through expansion, not relocation.

Seriously, enough. This is nothing but "legalese" - posturing between two sides of a courtroom in an effort to gain a foothold for an argument. Dragging the citizens of Winnipeg back into the argument, essentially by dangling a carrot in front of them that they once cared for, will only open old wounds.

I have gone over the reasons why Winnipeg is not an NHL city over and over and over and over again. I'm not about to re-open the argument.

Someone is willing, though. Darren Ford is a Winnipegger by birth, and is passionate about the former NHL franchise that used to reside in his city. He even started a website in 2003 called where he posted his thoughts on the state of the NHL without the Jets in it. Clearly, Darren would like to see the return of the Jets to the River City.

What Mr. Ford is peddling is nothing more than smoke, readers. I have read through his site, and I respect what he is doing, but there's little reason to believe that the NHL should return. His "How Much" page states that "there is no doubt NHL hockey will cost triple what the AHL currently costs in MTS Centre". I find this to be close to the truth when comparing ticket prices across the NHL spectrum.

What Mr. Ford fails to disclose is that Winnipeg is a blue-collar town. It is not a town with big businesses looking to wine-and-dine investors. Instead, Winnipeggers look for a deal or try to use a coupon whenever they can. While he does mention that "over 90 companies currently support the AHL Moose in this city in the form of luxury suites", there are not 90 suites available for rental in the MTS Centre. That means that companies share the boxes in order to reduce costs. Again, I can't see how these smaller businesses that are sharing boxes will pay three times what they are paying now, especially when Mr. Ford states bluntly that luxury suites "would run our big companies $150,000 per season".

Wanna know why hockey isn't in Winnipeg anymore? Perhaps it could be the fact that there are not a lot of corporations willing to shell out $150,000 per season for hockey tickets?

He goes on to mention that "the real statistic the NHL needs to look at is not raw population, but rather hockey fans per-capita". Exactly how does the NHL determine that? What scientific surveying technique will pull the information out of someone to determine if they are a hockey fan that is willing to pay three times the amount to watch NHL hockey as they do to watch AHL hockey? I have to see this technique at work. Excuse my cutting sarcasm.

Mr. Ford goes on to state that "the big TV dream in the United States is finally dead". Except it isn't. Versus, while being a great vehicle for hockey right now in the US, is starting to lose its lustre due to its lack of availability across the continental United States. In order for ESPN to even consider the NHL again, the NHL has to be in the larger TV markets in the US. That means that Winnipeg is not an option whatsoever.

And what markets will EPSN consider? Phoenix is a gigantic market in the southwest, and that's what ESPN considers. It doesn't care about the per-capita hockey fans. It only cares about the total number of people living in an area it can reach. Why? Because ratings don't care who is a hockey fan. Ratings simply determined who watched. And that's what ESPN cares about.

Don't forget that the CBC rarely showed Winnipeg games on Hockey Night In Canada. Playing in the Central time zone doesn't fly well when Toronto is on from 6pm until 9pm locally, followed by the Western game featuring Calgary, Edmonton, or Vancouver. For the CBC, Winnipeg is kind of a wasteland of hockey broadcasting because it doesn't work well in the East-to-West showing of games. That's also working against Winnipeg.

Where Mr. Ford really flies off the handle is his revenue generation estimation. He states that the new NHL Jets could earn a "revenue of over $1.1 million CDN (or $946,000 USD @ 0.85 exchange rate) per game assuming a sellout". I'm going to refer Mr. Ford to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Mellon Arena currently 2000 seats larger than the MTS Centre, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux has stated time and again that the Penguins need a larger arena to be viable in the NHL. Now that there is one being built, he only needs to worry about filling it, but that hasn't been a problem either with the dynamic young team he has on the ice.

While it's true that some NHL teams give away tickets to attract fans to games, the top NHL teams do not. For every Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Boston sell-out this year, there were sections of great seats available in places like Atlanta, Phoenix, Florida, and Long Island. The reality is that a crappy NHL team doesn't draw fans. Pittsburgh, during their dark days pre-Crosby, went through this same cycle. They claimed bankruptcy, and had to start working their way back. The problem is that Phoenix is terrible, and they don't look to be breaking out of that funk anytime soon. Ditto for Atlanta.

Concluding that the MTS Centre would be sold out every single night is a pipe dream. If Winnipeg didn't do it when the Jets were here the first time, they won't do it now. And if Mr. Ford's analysis somehow proves correct, the new Jets would have to sellout EVERY SINGLE GAME IN THEIR HISTORY just to turn a profit. And if the salary cap went up? What then? How do you add seats to an arena that only holds 15,000 including standing room?

Don't forget that the NHL's Board of Governors are split decidedly about revenue sharing. Those that are making piles of money aren't exactly thrilled with writing cheques to the ten franchises that are weighing down the league like anchors on boats. With Winnipeg potentially being the smallest city in the NHL and having no wiggle room after requiring that every game sell-out forever, how long before the NHL Board of Governors say "enough is enough" again? How long before Winnipeg is the next franchise being rumoured to move?

Enough is enough with yanking Winnipeg's chain. It is not an NHL city. As much as everyone seems to dream that the Jets will return to their home, Winnipeg is not a suitable destination for a landing. With the local governments drowning in required civic improvement costs, an NHL team is a luxury at this point.

And it's one that Winnipeg can neither afford nor support.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


JTH said...

Damn you and your "logic" and "evidence." I'd love to see the Jets back in Winnipeg.

Why? It just occurred to me the other day that the first "real date" my wife and I went on was December 27, 1991 -- a Blackhawks/Jets game. I harassed her for wearing a blue sweater that night. Our first actual date was a big group thing 2 days earlier, so it doesn't count, except for "official purposes". (Incidentally, that was also at Chicago Stadium -- Bulls/Celtics.)

That's a good enough reason for me.

jets fan said...

I still want them back in Winnipeg. Sure they'll never be as profitable as the maple leafs, but they'll do a hell of a lot better than nashville or florida or phoenix. I think you're being very close minded. Yes CBC has the unfortunate disgusting habit of playing Toronto Maple Leafs games every saturday, but a new Jets team has new revenue generating opportunities without needing a large venue. Tons of people in the region would be able to access high definition pay per view access to each game. Heck, the arena is in the top 25-50 most profitable venues in North America, and its owned by the guy who owns the AHL team. Theres not a bad sightline there. They could probably adjust things and add a bit more seats to boot, but if they only have 15,000 seats, they'll sell out most if not all games.

Teebz said...

Jets Fan: I think my "close-mindedness", as you put it, is completely on target. I have factored in pricing, TV revenue, NHL revenue, and support.

If you had read any of the info about the MTS Centre correctly, it is in the Top-20 venues in North America for events without including hockey. The guy that "owns" the MTS Centre is a group that is headed by Mark Chipman. He doesn't own 100% of it.

As much as I would like the Jets to return, there is absolutely no way this city can afford them. When the Jets left, the payroll was $27 million. The minimum that a team is required to pay out is $40 million for players. If you use Darren Ford's stats, that means every single game will have to be a sellout just for the team to break even on player salaries since NHL teams only play 41 home games.

And why would anyone pay to watch hockey on pay-per-view when Hockey Night In Canada is free? I'll pass on that, thanks.

How many times do I have to beat the dead horse for people to realize that Winnipeg is just too damned small for the NHL?