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