December 09, 2011
My dream scenario about a second NHL franchise in Toronto has always been that TSN and Rogers would have split the rights for the local hockey teams: One aligned with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the other aligned with the Toronto Clippers/Mets/White Sox.
Their $1.3 billion joint acquisition of a majority stake in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment empire is pretty much a glass of cold water in the face of that dream.
The four essential questions for an expansion or relocated hockey team in any locale: Is there someone that wants to own them and has the financial stability to effectively do so for a significant period of time? Is there a modern facility to house the team's games? Is there a market that can sustain strong attendance and high-end ticket sales?
And, finally: Are they enough ancillary revenue streams, such as media rights deals, to fill the team's coffers?
Toronto can answer all of these questions in the affirmative if it needed to — there's even been talk of a 20,000 seat arena in suburban Toronto. But that last one becomes trickier now that Sportsnet and TSN are, effectively, Leafs TV.
What would be the compelling reason for them to support what is essentially a competitor for the product they now own? A second Toronto team would be competition in every sense, and especially as the scrappy counterpoint to the Leafs. (This option seemed a lot more important before the Leafs started looking like a playoff team.)
To use ESPN as an example: They put over the properties they own and bury the ones they don't. Ask the NHL about that.
If a second team arrived in Toronto, there are other media options: CBC or The Score or Shaw (were they to get into sports). There's the potential to create a new network to broadcast the games, but with Rogers/Bell monopolizing — if not in the legal sense, then in the spirit of the thing — the area's teams, what else would be aired on that network? Poker?
Another scenario: Bell and Rogers move to create their own Superstation for MLSE properties, or just the Leafs. They would open up those networks for airing the Toronto Clippers/Mets/White Sox games. Sure, it would risk pumping up a competitor for the Leafs; but it would also mean tens of millions more from sponsors currently closed out of the Leafs' windfall. (And a chance to keep local NHL teams off of competitors.)
Eventually, all of this comes back to an fundamental question: Can a new team receive clearance from the Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres for entrance into the market? Neither team has a "veto" per se, but the impact on their markets is heavily considered and they can state their cases.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wrote about that recently, before the MLSE sale was announced:
During the bankruptcy proceedings for the Phoenix Coyotes two summers ago, a letter was produced from the Leafs to the NHL dated Nov. 29, 2006 stating it believes a unanimous vote, not simply a majority vote, would be required to move a team into their territory. Daly later responded by saying all that meant was the Leafs interpreted the constitution differently than the league did.
"Just because we don't have a team (in Toronto) or we didn't agree to Jim Balsillie hijacking a team in Phoenix and moving it into Hamilton, that means the Leafs have a veto? Two plus two doesn't equal three," Daly said later that year. But he was just getting warmed up. He went on to say, "the whole concept that someone has a veto is just plain wrong. It's made up. It's a falsification of the facts."
So where does this leave us? Well, when the league ultimately does decide to put a team in the Greater Toronto Area, it will be in for a fight from its most powerful member.
Is that still the case?
How about this theory: The NHL clears Bell/Rogers as owners of the Leafs; in exchange, they allow a second Toronto team into a market that can support it and then some.
Then it's just a matter of soothing the Sabres. And counting the expansion fee money.