Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Hockey Nights in Canada?

Miss604 had a great blog about the Phoenix Coyotes potentially moving to southern Ontario, which would bring a team back to Canada.  The billionaire behind this is Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of this Canadian tech. firm, RIM, known for something called the Blackberry.  {Balsillie has tried to get an NHL team twice before.}  There's even talk of an arena being built to be named after Wayne Gretzky's father.  Wayne is head coach and co-owner of the Coyotes.  The details of Coyotes implosion are getting murky and convoluted to say the least.  Reports last year were that the team was losing $30M per annum.

I'm all for more Canadian teams, particularly if there's fan support.  While I do realize my dreams of an Iquauit team may be far-fetched, I think uniforms with Inuktitut syllabics would be way-cool:: ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ  Anyway.  This made me think of potential Canadian markets for sports franchises.  The Phoenix metropolitan area has an estimated population of 4.28M, as of 2008, which is larger than all Canadian metro. areas, save for the GTA {Greater Toronto area}.  Of course, population doesn't translate directly into a franchise or a reliable fanbase.  Ask any LA fan hoping and praying for an NFL franchise to return.

On Miss604's blog and elsewhere, commenters have brought up other Canadian cities as having potential for an NHL franchise.  I pulled some 2006 numbers from Statistics Canada on some of these census metro areas::

Québec City  715,515 {former home of the Nordiques}
"Winterpeg"  694,668 {former home of the Jets, which became the Coyotes}
Hamilton  692,611  {Had an NHL team from 1920-1925}
London 457,720
Kitchener/Waterloo 451,235

Oh, BTW, Iqualuit up in Nunavut only has 6,184 people.

Kitchener and London are about 64 and 130kM from Hamilton, respectively.   At any rate, if Hamilton and Kitchener/Waterloo are considered to be a fanbase region, it would rival Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary, all metro areas with NHL teams.  Adding London would strengthen the case even more.  

As an aside, I think it would be great if regional fans could easily take mass transit to games.  Unfortunately, rail between Kitchener & London to Hamilton is less than ideal.  It's cheaper to take a GoTrain from Hamilton to Toronto {$21.90CAN} than to take Via train from London {$44.10CAN}.  I couldn't find an easy way by train to get from Kitchener to Hamilton.  I'm sure there are busses, which isn't my favourite mode of transit.

This fanbase map, while imperfect, is the type of GIS-like analytical tool that can help assess and manage brand-building for sports franchises.

I can see a southern Ontario team {east of Michigan} gaining a fanbase from Windsor and Sarnia up to Hamilton and possibly out towards St. Catherines {would national pride supersede any loyalties to the Detroit Red Wings & Buffalo Sabres?  Of course, winning changes everything}.  According to a 2008 NHL super-secret report, along the lines of Dean Wormer's double-secret probation, 6 of the top 7 ticket revenue generating teams are Canadian::  (#1) Toronto $1.9M per game, (2) Montréal $1.7M, (3) Vancouver $1.4M, (4) Calgary $1.3M, (6) Ottawa $1.2M, & (7) Edmonton $1.2M.  The lone top-5 US team was the NY Rangers at #5 with $1.3M per game.  While some cannibalization of the Leafs {Toronto} is likely, ticket revenue-wise the Leafs are at the top of the game.

As for a new team name, a Facebook discussion board was started last year.  There was an NHL team there in the 1920s, the Hamilton Tigers.  Someone threw the Loyalists into the ring.  Loyalists?  What century are we in?  How about the Hamilton Prince Willies?.  Given this, let the double entendres flow.

Image::  Mural of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the College Street station, Toronto, ON.  The opposite side of the platform has a mural of the arch-rival Habs.

{Old} Hockey Night in Canada Theme AKA Canada's Second National Anthem


linnyqat said...

This is all that weasel Gary Bettman's doing. He could care less about Canadian franchises, and will do whatever he can to get out of a deal with Balsillie that would see the Coyotes move (back) to the Great White North. He blocked Balsillie twice already in the latter's attempt to bring a hockey franchise to southern Ontario, and is preparing to make it a third time.

Bettman's legacy is all about US expansion. He's been pushing to move teams to the deep south, with middling results. There's no ice in Florida. Why is there hockey there?! If the market can sustain another team in southern Ontario, what the hell difference does it make to Bettman?

At any rate, the two men have gargantuan egos and it seems they are destined to clash over this issue yet again. Bettman is accusing Balsillie of using underhanded tactics to entice the Coyotes' owner to declare bankruptcy, and is doubtful Balsillie could get the votes necessary from other NHL owners to get the deal to pass. It will be fun to watch them go at it.

Personally, I could give a shit about more hockey in the area, but I guess as a Canadian I'd like to see more teams playing for the Maple Leaf.

Chico Mazaltoff said...

I think having an Iqualit team would be fantastic! That or we could give Saskatchewan their own NHL team. Those poor Saskatchewanians could use some NHL love. But leave Winnipeg out of this.

I was there when the Jets left and, quite frankly, good riddance. Attendance was always lousy and the outcry was pathetic. If the city loved the team that much than maybe they should have attended more games. Besides, they now have the Manitoba Moose to cheer for.

You should go to Google Video and search for "Death By Popcorn", it's a great film about the Gretzky conspiracy against the Jets.

Kenneth M. Kambara said...

lq:: Thanks for the background story on Bettman & Balsillie. In my mind, the NHL in America idea was to build up audiences in large American markets, in order to generate ticket and media revenues. Build it & they will come, but I think there's too much competition for the entertainment dollar and it's all about luxury boxes for corporations.

I'd rather see a team have a following in Canada than flounder in a US market.

cm:: Interesting. I guess that one great city isn't such a great NHL possibility, after all. I was reading on how the politicians (NDP & Conservatives} were promising to do something to keep the Jets in the city. Of course, it was all talk. At the end of the day, I think every city is worried about being saddled with an expensive fiasco like Montréal's Stade Olympique, built for the 1976 Olympics.

I'm all for a Saskie team...mainly so I can chuckle at Americans feeling uncomfortable when faced with city names like Regina. LQ might have some insights into how that might go. Maybe Don Cherry can explain it all. Oh, as it turns out Saskatoon is bigger than Regina.

I found Death by Popcorn. I have it going this minute. Interesting stuff.

If I teach sports marketing any time soon, I think I might use The Commercialization of Sport. This book goes into how the Canadian tax code subsidizes businesses to buy luxury boxes and drives up team revenues that way. Plus, the tourism revenue effects of professional sports are questionable, which complicates the issue of public investment in sports-related infrastructure.