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Why the NHL won’t expand in Canada?

Canada is the centre of the hockey world. With over 50% of the NHL’s players coming form Canada, we dominate who plays the game, how the game is played but not where the game is played. Everywhere you go in Canada hockey is the #1 sport and we Canadians are more loyal, knowledgeable, and die hard then any country about any sport. (Pure speculation but if you’ve ever tried to have an intellectual conversation with any American then you know what I mean) So why does Canada only have 6 teams in the best league in the world of the sport they invented, mastered, cherish and own? Why are some of our more marketable cities like Winnipeg, Hamilton and the Maritimes being over looked by American Markets like Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Portland?

Gary Bettman stated when he first entered the league as commissioner in 1993 that one of his main goals was to expand the NHL in the US and to grow its popularity. And why not? In the US, Football, Baseball and Basketball are the juggernaut sports down south but not very popular in Canada (with only 2 Canadian and the 3 sports and both are in Toronto). So if you could bring in a sport that would challenge markets in the States and that could be a popular as any of the other 3, then hockey would be HUGE having both American and Canadian fans. But that’s not the way it is. Don’t get me wrong, hockey is big in a lot of US markets and their fans are just as hard core as any Canadian team and many US cities see hockey with the same eyes as the other 3 big leagues. But many teams are struggling down south because, for the most part, people don’t care. They see hockey as a 2nd or 3rd tier sport like volleyball (fun to watch and that’s it). I respect the NHL for trying to show people what our game is about and trying to expand its interest to other “non hockey” markets but this has all been at Canadians expense. The NHL has been trying so hard to make hockey into a juggernaut that they have closed their eyes to traditions, mistakes, and the realistic view that there are some areas in the US where hockey will never be what they want it to be.
So why are Gary Bettman and the NHL still hanging on to teams in Florida, Phoenix, and Nashville when it’s clear it’s not working the way they anticipated. Logic tells us that if you moved a couple of these teams to Canada they would flourish, sell-out and be respectable again. But that’s not what the NHL is looking for. If you had all 30 teams in Canada and all 30 sold out every night, you still wouldn’t be close to the NFL, NBA or MLB because Canada is simply to small a country to compete. The NHL wants TV contracts, merchandise sells, and just about every other revenue generates do-dad there is outside of actual ticket sales. Regardless of the amount of teams you have in Canada, the fan base will barely change. Why? Because we’re already fans of 1 team or another. But if you get a team in a city in the US who knows nothing about hockey, then although you may only get 12,000 fans a game at most, those are 12,000 new NHL and hockey fans who otherwise wouldn’t be hockey fans.
If Winnipeg or Hamilton got teams where would their fans come from? Other NHL teams more then likely, so you don’t actually gain anything but more ticket sales which doesn’t really affect the NHL as an organization. But in Vegas or Kansas City you get fans who choose hockey over other sports which means new markets for merchandise, TV contracts, etc and even though ticket sales are small, that’s not where the money is (at least for the NHL).
I know that Canada deserves more NHL teams and some cities like Winnipeg would give anything to have a team back there but if you look at it through the eyes of a businessman rather then a hockey fan then you’ll see why it will never happen. And this is what is sad about the league. They don’t do what is good for the sport but what is good for the league.

In fact, Canada is more likely to lose another franchise then gain one. Montreal has Quebec and part of the Maritime (I know cause I live in the Maritimes) Toronto has most of Ontario and part of the Maritimes, Ottawa has a smaller part of Ontario (but Ontario is large enough for two teams), Vancouver has the West and Calgary and Edmonton have prairies. The prairies (Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan) could only have 1 team and still have the support the money of 2 or 3 teams (excluding the obvious ticket sales). You could move Calgary to Las Vegas (for example) not lose any NHL fans in Canada but gain some in Nevada, theoretically. This is why Winnipeg or Canada will not expand in Canada unless a current owner challenges and fights the league for it and even then, as Jim Balsille has proved, can just be pissing in the wind

Daniel Chapman
http://danielsnhlnews.blogspot.com/
Filed Under:   Expansion   Winnipeg Jets   Gary Bettmen   NHL   canada  
December 1, 2007 1:20 PM ET | Delete
You are obviously trying to incite a heated and nasty debate, but like any smart fish, I will merey swim away from the bait.....
December 1, 2007 3:12 PM ET | Delete
Great article. Being a Preds fan, I totally see where you are coming from. Prior to the Preds coming to Nashville, I looked at Hockey as the 3 best sport. I liked it more then the thugs in the NBA. But way behind baseball and the nfl. And I never had been to a game or bought any merchandise. But now, I am a season ticket holder, go to 43 games a year, plus a few road trips, have all sorts of merchandise, the direct TV Center ICE plan so I can watch other teams, and consider it my #1 sports league. I AM one of those 14,000 NEW fans that you referred to. And I have brought some of my friends into the excitement as well. Not enough of course as our attendance shows, but it is growing. As a sports fan, I just hope that the Predators stick around long enough for the game to catch on and attendance to go up.
December 1, 2007 3:49 PM ET | Delete
Yeah Nashville! Go Preds.
December 1, 2007 5:09 PM ET | Delete
I think you hit the nail on the head on why Canada is unlikely to see another team anytime soon. I have felt that this is the case for quite some time. I do feel for my northern 'brothers in hockey' on the fan base to teams ratio, but as you stated, another Canadian team would not grow the sport. I also feel, however, that a lot of people need to be more patient and allow some of the southern markets to grow at their slow pace. Places like Nashville have the potential to be huge but it will be a slow build. Even in the Philadelphia area, a decent market, there are new fans every season. Oh, by the way, without all of us unintelligent Americans and our population your talented hockey players would all be playing in Europe and you guys would be getting all the aging players after they went through the big (aka money making) leagues and would only see some of the best young talents before they met their potential and moved to the big leagues. I don't mean to throw mud, but as you touched on above, its a population thing.
December 1, 2007 7:53 PM ET | Delete
Certainly putting a team back in Winnipeg wouldn't take paying fans away from another NHL team. I think the arena is the big issue there. Hamilton would, but that area is just too hot to ignore. The league is crazy not to make sure a franchise is in there sooner rather than later.
December 1, 2007 9:49 PM ET | Delete
This is Horribly written, The points that he makes are moronic. The NHL has to sell-out to look legitimet. Having 1200 people come to a game is a joke its more like 8000 in alot of those cities. To say we will lose a team is a joke. Canada markets are the only thing holding the NHL together right now. The americans are boycotting the game and if it were not for the Canadian franchises selling out and buying merch the NHL would be a minor league.
December 1, 2007 9:54 PM ET | Delete
They only fans you seem to have are americans. How do you figure pushing hockey down americans throats when they obviously do not like it down south makes the game more marketable. This game is only going to entertain people that have something in common with the game. Putting teams in Puerto Ricco would add a couple fans too but do you really think that gaing 2 fans and going bankrupt make a strong league your hilarious
December 1, 2007 11:37 PM ET | Delete
The NHL wont be good again untill Ron Maclean is Commish. I love hockey, it's in my blood...but the NHL really pisses me off
December 2, 2007 12:04 PM ET | Delete
canada didnt invent hockey, it was invented in england
December 3, 2007 12:41 AM ET | Delete
The Eskimos invented hockey. The Eskimos are Canadian. Dumbass.
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