Having been an observer of the National Hockey League for decades I’ve come to acknowledge several truths. The first is that I adore hockey. The second is that the NHL owners don’t give a damn about individual fans. The third is that collectively they are the 30 (ish) worst billionaire businessmen on the planet. Last of the great truths is that being an NHL fan is like being in an abusive relationship; they withhold attention, make arbitrary changes to how things are done, and trample all over your livelihood, friendships and pleasure activities on the smallest whim.
The biggest issue, as Ive said all along in this lockout is an owner versus owner issue. It is soluble. It just isn’t fixable by bludgeoning the fans and players to death. Both the big owners and small owners do have points about he revenue sharing issues in the NHL. Yes the Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and other older and traditional market teams are propping up a lot of the league. On the other hand, without the teams in Florida, California, Ohio, and Texas getting a national television deal in the USA would be impossible. That TV deal, and the advertising revenue that go with it are vital to the league.
Both contraction which the ill informed argue for all the time, and mass relocation are undesirable, and unworkable. Once you take those two options off the table, and factor in reducing the burden on the top revenue earning teams the answer becomes obvious: Expand.
The expansion fees could be used to help get teams like the Islanders out of their current arena mess and into a new arena that will actually generate revenue. Likewise a low interested ten or so year loan to the Devils that got them not just out of financial peril, but gave them a cushion potentially gives you two more viable teams in a major market. The Coyotes may or may not be beyond fixing, but for damn sure owning their own arena would be a giant leap forward. With a wave of expansion, properly conducted little to no money would come out of the NHL’ owners doing the best pockets, and they’d end up with well placed teams long term to help generate revenue reducing their burden eight, twelve and twenty years from now.
Where is the best place for the new teams? If we start with two waves of two teams, say Quebec City and somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area, they like Winnipeg will have four or five years of strong attendance just for showing up, regardless of how bad the teams are. Seattle is another city likely to have a firm fan base as long as it appears the owners have clue one about how to build (and market) a team. Portland Oregon also shows some potential. Then markets like; Salt Lake City which has an NBA team, but no other major sport. Milwaukee, and Indianapolis have marks in their favor, as do Saskatchewan and possibly even a second Chicago area team. Teams in places like the GTA, and Quebec city are likely to end up in the top 10/12 for revenue.
Given that the top ten teams earn roughly $1.5billion a year, If after year four in existence those teams are earning 15% below the average off the current top ten, those 12 teams alone will be generating almost 2 billion a year, that’s almost 65% of the current leagues income. Seattle and wherever the fourth team landed might do roughly 12% below that, which is still another quarter billion. And that doesn’t even factor in higher income from teams like the Islanders getting better arenas or better arena deals.