Jim Balsillies team has added some muscle in the bid to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton: former Canadian Football League commissioner Tom Wright. It didnt take long for the new hire to make his presence felt.
Lawyers late yesterday submitted to the NHL a Wright-authored application for relocation on behalf of both PSE Sports and Entertainment LP, which Balsillie created to buy the Coyotes, and the teams debtors and current owners.
It creates a fairly compelling case for a change of scenery.
According to information from Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, the team has recorded operating losses of more than US$316 million since moving from Winnipeg in 1996, and will lose another US$44 million over the next five years under even the most optimistic of scenarios.
Despite good efforts and intentions by many parties, the club is not, never has been and never will be financially viable, consistently supported by fans and a leading professional sports team in Arizona, the application states.
Little wonder, then, that Moyes did not receive an offer lucrative enough to pay off most the teams creditors and keep the club in Glendale, even though he hired Citibanks Private Banking Group and an experienced adviser to pump the team.
In support of the idea that moving the Coyotes to Hamilton would not hurt the league, Wright refers to a study done by market researcher HotSpex in May that shows nearly two-thirds of Hamilton-area residents would hold the league in higher regard if a team moved there. By contrast, 38% of people polled in the Phoenix area said their opinion would not change if the Coyotes left, and 8% would have a higher regard for the league.
Wright also points out that the NFL is the most successful professional sports loop in North America, but doesnt have a team in the second-largest market, Los Angeles, so the NHL could easily do without Phoenix. (You might reply that the comparison is not apt: while football is ingrained in the American consciousness, hockey is still growing in the southern markets. And football is a proven winner on U.S. television, while the NHL is not.)
Clearly, a move north doesnt help strengthen American interest in the NHL, even if it would appease Canadians still bitter over losing the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques a decade ago. There are 1.4 million people in Hamilton and the surrounding area7 million in southwestern Ontarioand, contrary to popular belief, their median after-tax income is 14% above the Ontario average, suggesting that they may have the means to spend tens of thousands of dollars on hockey tickets.
And the tickets will be pricy if Balsillie is to pay for the improvements necessary to make Copps Coliseum suitable for the NHL. http://www.makeitseven.ca/press_coppsplan.html But the town has ponied up before. When it looked like Balsillie was going to get the Nashville Predators, 13,000 deposits on season tickets were made, as were 70 corporate ones, totaling US$11.1 million in tickets sold in 12 days. Wright says Balsillie believes a team in Hamilton will be an immediate success, but is not only willing but is able to fund any losses. Such losses would include keeping the team in Phoenix for one more year, if his bid is successful but hes unable to move the team immediately because of scheduling or other concerns.
But one factor Wrights application doesnt address is the effect a team in Hamilton would have on the Toronto Maple Leafs and, to a lesser extent, the Buffalo Sabres. The NHLs constitution grants each team a territory that extends 80 kilometres beyond the home citys corporate limits in each direction. Those teams can prevent NHL games from getting played on their turf without consent.
Bill Walker, spokesperson for Balsillies bid, says those effects will be determined down the road, and depend on the outcome of the bankruptcy proceeding and auction, along with smaller matters such as team name, uniform and parking facilities. No doubt Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has an exorbitant price in mind for such consent, while Sabres owners Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn would likely get a little less.
When the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey in 1982, the owners had to pay a combined US$12.5 million to the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers to encroach upon their territories. The Los Angeles Kings received US$25 million over a 10-year span when the Anaheim Ducks came waddling by in 1993.
But keep in mind those figures are 27 and 16 years old, respectively, and the NHL was in even weaker shape back then. ————
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