The World Awaits… NHL Expansion: Who’s In… And Who’s Out

Mark Warner

July 17 2015

With the NHL Announcement on June 24th that it will begin accepting Official Applications for new franchises, speculation has run rampant on which cities would formally apply. This report on CBSSports.Com sums up the announcement:

     NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league’s board of governors has approved the opening of a formal expansion process. This does not necessarily mean the league will definitely expand, but this will allow the league to more formally gauge interest from various markets and explore all possibilities.Formal applications for expansion will start being accepted on July 6. They will have to be submitted no later than August 10

By “more formally gauge interest” we assume they mean collect the application fee from as many cities as possible. It is reported  to be 10 million dollars, 2 million of which is non-refundable.

         As first co-reported by thn.com and The Seattle Times last week, the price just to apply for a team is a minimum of $2 million. But wait, there’s more. Prospective owners are required to put down $10 million when they formally apply for a team. If they do not get a team, in a best-case scenario, they’d have $8 million returned to them.

This fee, and the cost of a franchise, which is reported to be variable by market, is certainly having its effects on who will apply.  The following is from a Sporting News article

Applying for an NHL expansion franchise will cost $10 million, an unidentified NHL source confirmed to the Seattle Times, not the $1 million that has been reported by media outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Additionally, $2 million of that fee is non-refundable, presumably a big enough number to prevent groups that might not be fully committed to the process from applying.

And this from THN.COM

 Conversely, Las Vegas wants in the NHL badly and the team will be owned by a billionaire, so the price tag there might be closer to $500 million, whereas Seattle, a place where the NHL would like to place a team, might be in the neighborhood of how much it would cost Quebec City to get a team.

Kansas City Out 

These fees have eliminated Kansas City, a city many thought would apply. As reported in the Kansas City Star, the likely ownership groups will not materialize.

     Lamar Hunt Jr., who owns the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks, a minor-league hockey team that plays in Independence, called the NHL’s $500 million price tag for an expansion franchise “a ridiculously big fee,” and said that he is not aware of anyone in Kansas City who will make a push for a team.

“No, it’s not on my radar,” he said. “It’s not on this team’s radar, and it’s not on my radar.”

Cliff Illig, a billionaire and part of the ownership group of Sporting Kansas City, is also not involved with a bid for Kansas City, and does not know of anyone who is. “You could say that,” he said. “That’s certainly the truth.”

Seattle In AND Out 

With early reports out of the Pacific Northwest that two and possibly three  separate groups would be applying, excitement from the NHL To Seattle groups on social media was peaking.

In our conversation with Paul Rogers from the Seattle Sin Bin, the excitement appeared to be giving way to uncertainty, as the various groups around Seattle jockeyed for position. The Vegas Hockey Podcast show is quite interesting, give it a listen!

With yesterday’s reports on the SB Nation page SonicsRising detailing the withdrawal of Chris Hansen and the SODO Arena plan, as well as the mysterious Bellevue group, The Puget Sound NHL hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of  the Tukwila/Bartozek group. From Sonic Rising:

     A source involved from the Seattle effort said Friday the Coleman group had told the NHL it wanted to finalize the arena site before submitting an application. The same source also indicated Vancouver, B.C., native Coleman hoped to “fast track” the expansion process once a land deal is completed. Coleman’s camp, according to sources, also indicated it is still committed to bringing an NHL franchise to Seattle.

So, there is still optimism  in Seattle, but the initial excitement is turning into frustrated hope.

Las Vegas Still The Favorite

From the privately funded arena on schedule to open in the spring of 2016,  the ownership group privately paying any expansion/application fees, the very successful ticket drive, the lease agreement in place, everything points to an NHL expansion team starting play in Sin City for the 2017-18 season. As CBS Sports says:

       There is no market right now that appears as ripe for expansion as Las Vegas. They have the building — a 20,000-seat arena being built by AEG and MGM slated for completion in 2016. They have the ownership group — billionaire Bill Foley and Las Vegas magnates, the Maloof family. They even have had the season-ticket drive, for which they’ve received pledges well over the 10,000-ticket goal they set. People put down real-money deposits for a team that doesn’t exist yet. With all of that in mind, Las Vegas is No. 1 for expansion right now.

Quebec City Closing Strong

With the ownership group of Quebecor Media and their billions, the beautiful new Videotron Centre, and the apparent unraveling of things in Washington State, Quebec Cities bid to reignite the Nordiques flame is gaining steam. The Globe and Mail reported Quebecor’s intention:

     “Quebecor has consistently stated that its objective is to establish an NHL franchise in Quebec City and it intends to make every effort to achieve that goal,” the statement said. “Out of respect for NHL authorities and the process that has been established, Quebecor will maintain its policy of discretion as it proceeds.”

The fan-base is fanatical about hockey, something it holds above any other market applying for a team. With the city and province shifting from their political stand against financial help to the original Nords, to one where they jointly financed the new arena, all the questions appear to have been answered in Quebec.

The Long Shots

Portland, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Houston have all been linked to NHL rumors at one time or another recently. Each city has their pros and cons, but are viewed as secondary options.

Portland would be a great option if the Seattle groups can’t get an arena project approved. They have an NHL sized arena already. The problem there is lack of an interested ownership group. Paul Allen owns the arena and the NBA Trailblazers, and is not an enthusiastic hockey guy.

The lack of an arena seems to eliminate putting a second team in the greater Toronto area. The Maple Leafs and Sabres both have voiced proximity concerns.

Milwaukee is having their own political quagmire concerning a new arena and the NHL must be hesitant to enter another publicly  funded arena minefield.

Houston would create a nice local rivalry with the Stars, but doesn’t expand the league footprint the way the efforts of Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas would.

With the new deadline of June 20th looming and only Quebec City and Las Vegas believed to have submitted their bids, the hockey world waits with baited breath to see who else will join the expansion party. The more time passes, the more the pretenders are separated from the real contenders. In September, Gary Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors will announce the winners of the expansion lottery, if any. Stay tuned.

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