Best City for NHL Expansion is…

By , Hockey VIPs Magazine
April 14, 2015

Houston would be a perfect location for an NHL franchise

Which non-NHL city is financially best suited to host an expansion team? Houston.

Houston, you should have an NHL club.  At least that is the finding of a new study by the American City Business Journals, which finds the Space City to be the most financially able to support a potential team.

Of course, bring up NHL expansion in any group of fans and you’re likely to get an earful.  Where does hockey really belong?  Is another team necessary?  What city “deserves” a team?  Should non-traditional markets even be in the running?

The answer to the latter is “yes,” according to the study, which attempted to determine which markets would be best suited for expansion in a variety of leagues, including the NHL — and hockey purists may shudder at its findings.

The ACBJ’s study looked at the top 83 U.S. and Canadian sports markets to determine if they have the financial ability to support a new team.  Each city’s total personal income (TPI) was calculated, then financial obligations to existing pro teams were subtracted to determine each city’s TPI surplus.  Houston led the way with a “substantial” TPI surplus of $124 billion to support an NHL team.

According to the study, Houston with it’s enormous population (6.5 million — the 4th largest city in America) and deep pockets (total personal income of $335 billion), not to mention its NHL-ready arena (Toyota Center), long hockey history, and rivalry with the city of Dallas (setting up a battle for Texas bragging rights), would make it an ideal location for either an expansion franchise or a relocated team.

Other NHL Expansion Options

The study finds fellow Sun Belt city Las Vegas, which is reportedly already on the NHL’s radar, also has the financial ability to support a team.  Las Vegas’ “substantial” TPI surplus of $83 billion, relatively large population (nearly 2.3 million) and lack of any other professional sports franchise in the market make it a favorable location as well.

Hartford, former home of the NHL’s Whalers, was next with a TPI surplus of $81 billion; followed by Virginia Beach-Norfolk ($80 billion) and Sacramento ($69 billion).

Among other cities found to be financially viable, though with smaller populations and/or smaller TPI surpluses are: Austin ($58 billion), Richmond ($57 billion), Albany ($56 billion), Birmingham ($54 billion),  Rochester ($53 billion), Tulsa ($52 billion), Grand Rapids ($52 billion), Harrisburg ($53 billion), Orlando ($50 billion) and Cape Coral-Fort Myers ($50 billion).

“Borderline Capacity”

Seattle is possible NHL expansion destination but the study finds it lacks the financial backing.

Seattle is often mentioned in NHL expansion rumors, but could it support a team?

Interestingly Seattle, which is often rumored to be a potential NHL franchise expansion/relocation destination was deemed marginally suited for a future team, citing its “moderate” TPI surplus of $44 billion.  The study finds it would be a better location for potential NBA expansion because the costs of operating a major league basketball franchise are lower than the cost of pro hockey.

Of course the study focuses its attention completely on a city’s financial capacity and does not take into consideration other factors such as whether a city has an NHL-caliber rink, its proximity to existing teams, as well as what the ACBJ refers to as “unique local factors” (e.g. the prominence of gambling in Las Vegas).

From a purely financial standpoint, the ACBJ study finds Kansas City to be unsuitable for NHL expansion due to a “substantial” TPI deficit of $-86 billion.  The city is already home to pro football, baseball and soccer teams and the TPI required to support those teams ($192 billion) exceeds the city’s $106 billion TPI.

Canadian Markets?

Quebec City is on NHL expansion option

The study’s future scenarios for expansion seem to hint that the NHL is likely to return to Quebec City someday.

Perhaps Canadian readers have wondered how Quebec City, once home the NHL’s Nordiques, fares in the ACBJ study.  With a population of just 793,500 and a TPI of $34 billion (USD), it is one of the smallest markets in the survey.  From a financial standpoint, Quebec City was found to be “inadequate” to support a franchise.  The ACBJ estimates a potential NHL city requires a TPI base of at least $48 billion to prosper.

Before getting too upset, Quebec City supporters should know, the study’s authors believe that despite its calculations, Quebec City could support a franchise.  It postulated several scenarios of what the NHL could look like in 204o.  In all of its scenarios, there was a team in Quebec City.  In explaining its rationale, the ACBJ notes:

“The NHL has also discovered the need to stay true to its Canadian base. The league abandoned Winnipeg and Quebec City in the mid-1990s, but has since crawled back to the former. The time has come to restore the latter as well, which is what we do in this limited scenario.”  (See:  Scenario 1: Limited expansion, Scenario 2: Moderate expansion, Scenario 3: Extreme expansion)

Time will tell which of these scenarios — if any — come to pass.  In the meantime, isn’t it fun to debate?

Photographs:  Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau; Rattlhed via WikiCommons

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7 Responses to Best City for NHL Expansion is…

  1. David Reply

    April 16, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    The study appears to have produced bizarre results, it gives Harrisburg, Virginia Beach and Louisville each a higher NHL-ready score than Quebec City. Something seems off.

  2. tom Reply

    April 28, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Green Bay,need one

  3. Nathan Stellman Reply

    April 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Houston has huge potential

  4. Hammer Reply

    May 5, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Umm hamilton?? Beats all those! Hockey hot bed of S. Ontario!

  5. Craig Reply

    June 8, 2015 at 12:12 am

    I would love the NHL to come to Houston. But It’s not happening. The Rockets owner somehow has some kind of ties to the Toyota Center regarding an NHL team having to share revenue with him. Even though we the taxpayers paid for this arena. It’s owned by the Houston Sports Authority not Les Alexander. But somehow he has the power to call the shots. He Is the reason we didn’t get an NHL team during the last expansion. We were a virtual lock to get a team along with Atlanta. Unless we can build another arena, we’ll never see hockey here In Houston. We are the 4th largest city and we only have 3 professional sports teams. Unless you want to count the below average soccer that’s played at BBVA Compass Stadium.

  6. Chris Steeples Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    San Diego’s about to lose The Chargers and 1.3 million affluent people live there.

  7. Joe Reply

    June 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Expansion sounds great, but there are teams that can’t draw fans. Relocate or fold some these teams, such as the panthers, lightning, hurricanes, stars & coyotes. Atlanta had 2 nhl teams that bolted out of there after 7 years. Put teams in cold weather cities, such as cleveland, quebec, saskatoon, gb/milwaukee. the nhl just doesn’t draw fans in the south like basketball does.

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