Thursday, March 3, 2011

A New Arena In Quebec City - Will The NHL Be Moving North Again?

This article was first published in the March 2nd edition of Main Street Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Magazine delivered right to your inbox.

On February 10th, Premier Jean Charest and Regis Labeaume, the Mayor of Quebec City, announced their intention to move forward with their plan for a new arena in Quebec City. The city and the province will share the costs of the estimated $400 million facility, while leaving the door open for contributions from the private sector and the Federal government. With construction set to begin on what is described as an NHL-style arena, the hope is to have the facility completed by the fall of 2015. The question being asked in the provincial capital and across Canada is, “If they build it, will the NHL move in?”

Quebec City’s NHL franchise, the Nordiques, left for Colorado in 1995 and became the Avalanche when the out-dated Colisee could not be replaced with a new arena. All levels of government, as well as the private sector, demonstrated no interest in saving the franchise at the time. What has changed since the Nordiques left town?

Several factors would allow for a successful return to the NHL for Quebec City. The Canadian dollar is much stronger than it was during the mid-90’s when the Nordiques left for Colorado, a factor that has benefited all of the current NHL teams in Canada. Nostalgia is also a key component in this process - the Nordiques have a long and storied history in the provincial capital as a member of the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League. In early October, more than 50,000 fans gathered for a rally to demonstrate their desire to become an NHL city once again. Corporate support will be essential for the long-term health of the franchise and it appears the business community is prepared to support the reincarnated Nordiques. Hockey fans will certainly reward any business that helps bring the NHL back to the provincial capital.

The fact that the Southern expansion by the NHL has not taken root in certain cities must also be considered. While the league would never come out and say a particular franchise is struggling, there are several franchises experiencing hard times financially. Part of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s legacy in the league is his expansion into non-traditional markets in the United States. While it has been a success in places like Raleigh (the Carolina Hurricanes) and Tampa Bay (the Lightning), the Atlanta Thrashers and the Florida Panthers have struggled on the ice and at the ticket counter. The New York Islanders, a once proud franchise, has struggled on the ice for many years and they are in desperate need of a new arena. Team owner Charles Wang has tried repeatedly to begin a new development known as the “Lighthouse Project”, which would include a new arena for his Islanders. Unfortunately, the project has yet to receive the green light and it appears at this point that it never will. All three are candidates for relocation.

As recently as the NHL All-Star game, the commissioner stated that the league has no intention to expand the league or relocate an existing franchise. So, why would a team arrive in Quebec City? The answer is quite simple - the bottom line. Unlike the other major sports leagues, the NHL does not have a multi-million dollar television contract in the United States; revenue is generated by ticket sales and merchandising. Moving a struggling franchise to a market like Quebec City, a market ready to embrace the NHL, is better for the overall health of the league.

If they build it, the NHL will come...

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