By Geneen Pipher, Hockey VIPs Magazine
April 14, 2015
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).
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.
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 WikiCommonsTags: Gordie Howe, hockey in the south, Houston Aeros, Houston hockey, NHL expansion, NHL in Houston, NHL in Las Vegas, NHL in Quebec City, non-traditional hockey markets, Sun Belt hockey