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London Knights’ 2014 Memorial Cup bid hits small snag, not of their own making

London coach and part-owner Dale Hunter (left in photo, Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

Follow the money, eh? It stretches suspension of disbelief to believe anything in junior hockey could be too rich for the London Knights' blood. They lead the Ontario Hockey League in attendance pretty much annually and with a strong core expected back next season, seem eminently qualified to host the MasterCard Memorial Cup in 2014 in terms of having the building, the market and oh yes, a decent hockey team presuming the OHL's selection committee will pay greater heed to that than either of their counterpart did when awarding the 2013 events (cough).

So what could go askew before the OHL decides in April from a group of bids that is expected to include the Barrie Colts, Kingston Frontenacs and Windsor Spitfires? Well, there will be no seed money coming from local government in London, Ont., which already threw a whack of money at the world figure skating championships.

From Morris Dalla Costa (@MoDaCoatLFPress)

In 2005, when London won the Memorial Cup bid, the guarantee was in the $1.1-million range. The tournament made around $1.5 million.

When Mississauga won the bid for the Memorial Cup in 2011 [the last time the OHL hosted — Ed.], its guarantee was about $2.5 million. You can bet it’s going to take something like that to win the bid this time around.

... 2.5 million — or whatever it is — is a big chunk of change for anyone to go it alone.

“The Knights are going to have be a guarantor,” John Winston general manager of Tourism London said. “They have asked me if the city would be a guarantor or a co-guarantor and I said no. This is not the appropriate time to be asking that question. It’s on as a liability. Politically I know we would take a lot of flack.

“(The Knights) can do it. This is not a huge risk from my perspective. If they look at the numbers this is not going to be a loser, this is going to be a winner.” (London Free Press)

There seem to be two decent reasons for getting into this, beyond the fact it's a slow period for junior hockey news. One is to point out that if the Knights are willing to pay the freight, they probably will since the tournament will be a licence to make a profit. There's a proven track record since London hosted a successful Cup in 2005 and has remained a model major junior hockey market.

The other, though, is to wonder when each of three leagues has a conversation about how staging the tournament has exceeded the grasp of about (conservative estimate) two-thirds to three-quarters of the franchises in the OHL. It's a rich getting richer scenerio, a very slippery slope. Perhaps one shouldn't mind if the other OHL franchises decide to award the tournament to London because the 9,100-seat capacity of Budweiser Gardens means a bigger profit pie to divide among the teams, but being named Cup host is a golden ticket into the tournament and a credit card to recruit players. That can alter competitive balance.

The London bid would be a front-runner, obviously. Windsor offers good seating capacity at 6,500 seats in the WFCU centre, but their current .500 point percentage has spawned doubts about their competitiveness in 2014. The Barrie Colts are dealing with having the smallest arena (4,195, but seating could probably be added) of any of the rumoured bidders. Kingston is also probably two seasons away, not one. from truly peaking. Squeezing extra facilities required for the tournament into the K-Rock Centre will require some creativity. Ultimately, though, London not getting municipal help should be a red flag when so many other franchises are priced out of the bid game.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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