From My Mom's Basement: Craps Now a Sure Thing in Canada

Let's face it, until every team in the NHL is locked into a 75 year lease in their current city, the speculation of some poor fan base losing their team is going to continue. If not Phoenix and Atlanta, it would be Florida or the Islanders. Every team that has a couple bad seasons is going to be headed for Winnipeg. If all 30 franchises were locked in, or if the NHL banned relocation, the speculation would then turn to expansion.

You see, there are fans of this sport that love the game so much that it blinds them to the realities of the world. So, when a report is released that basically says it might work, the story becomes "See, we told you it would work." 

The fan bases in four cities, and by extension all NHL cities, deserve better than wild speculation and rampant rumor mongering. They deserve hard facts, and true interpretations. The fans deserve better than taking a report and completely misinterpreting the information presented in it.

The fans deserve better than David Shoalts.

In an article that came through my Twitter feed, Shoalts claims that "Viability of NHL in Winnipeg and Quebec backed by report." He then spends the entire article showing just how much of a crap shoot it would be, all based on the independent report he claims says the markets are viable.

In true FMMB style, we'll break this up.

Winnipeg and Quebec City might be able to support an NHL team if they get a second chance but a report by The Conference Board of Canada stopped short of saying it is a sure thing.    

In the very first sentence, Shoalts backs away from what his title claims. Might be able to support... stopped short of saying... The confidence level is off the charts.

Shoalts moves on to quoting the report, which can be found as a pdf document on the original post, to support his assertion of viability. 

"Whether the overall conditions are sufficient to bring back a team to the passionate fans in either city remains debatable," said Mario Lefebvre...    

Debatable instills a sense that we are not sure about this, does it not? While everything in life is ultimately debatable, business decisions such as the viability of a market should not be. Especially with the stakes as high as they are right now. Debatable? We can debate the viability of Phoenix and Atlanta. If debatable is good enough, there is no reason to move.

The next section explains just how the market would struggle to support and NHL franchise because of... get this... the CFL team in Winnipeg.

With Winnipeg's population of 750,000, Lefebvre said, "fans would face a challenge of supporting both NHL and [CFL] teams." Most fans would not buy full season tickets for both teams, the report said, and would either buy one team's tickets or split their entertainment budget between the two.    

The report says it would take 800,000+ to support both. They don't have that, and Shoalts admits it fully in his piece. "Most fans would not buy full season tickets for both teams." Most. That doesn't sound good to me.

The article goes on to explain the lack of enough large corporations in the two cities to support the two cities' perspective franchises. This is something we have brought up before and were told we were totally off base. The report, from an independent, Canadian source, says we were right. 

Quoting Mike Smith, former GM of the Jets, Shoalts continues to fumble his point:

"I think it would be good if Winnipeg gets back in the league because it represents more of the rural-ness of the game in North America," he said. "But to be successful the public is going to have to buy the tickets. It can't be corporate-driven.

"They have to average 70, 75 dollars a ticket. The public will have to step up and support it."

It can't be corporate driven, but today's NHL is corporate driven. Want to make money? You have to sell out the building, make the playoffs, AND have a huge amount of corporate support. Hard truths, folks. 

The $70 average doesn't bother me much. Seems in line with most teams prices. I would concede the point on this, if Shoalts had not provided the argument against it:

The NHL executive does not think Winnipeggers will be willing to pay NHL prices for tickets in the long term. While he thinks the city will do a better job of supporting an NHL team than some of the southern U.S. cities, he said ultimately fans in Winnipeg will tire of paying NHL prices.

"It's a wholesale city that wants everything at cost," he said.

Oh... so they won't pay it. This is the price that it will take to make it successful, and we don't think the people in Winnipeg are willing to pay it. This screams viability.

The discussion turns briefly to the so called "four pillars" argument. Saying that a team has to have the "four pillars" in place to be successful, the report is aimed completely at examining those four pillars. Below are the pillars from the report, and Shoalts' conclusions on each.

Market size

both cities grew by about 100,000 people but neither is quite at the 800,000 the authors say is needed to support an NHL franchise.    

High Per-capita income

Winnipeg had the fifth-largest per-capita disposable income among Canada's nine largest cities in 2009, while Québec was seventh.    

Corporate support

Quebec's corporate presence is modest, Winnipeg is home to the headquarters of 30 of Canada's largest corporations, which puts it ahead of Edmonton and Ottawa.    

Level playing field

the dollar and the NHL's economics are much improved since the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques went south in the mid-1990s.    

Market size: Nope
High Per-capita Income: They say yes, but 5th and 7th of 9 is not great. Also, those per capita incomes are low compared to other NHL cities. 
Corporate support: Winnipeg is a maybe at best, Quebec is a no.
Level Playing field: Sure, that's in place... to a point. 

This altogether too brief examination of the "four pillars" shows that maybe two of them are solid-ish, and two are weak. At least one is structurally deficient. But hey, let's build on that, shall we?

The final paragraph of Shoalt's piece, a quote from the report, is the most telling:

"We believe that Quebec City and Winnipeg have the right market conditions for another shot at NHL hockey - but not at any price," the authors said in their conclusion.    

Another shot? If they are going to move teams that already have a shot, should it not be to a market that is a slam dunk? Or at least a perceived slam dunk? 

Not at any price? What price is acceptable? Shall we sweeten the deal with guaranteed Stanley Cups every year? Perhaps you only want to play other Canadian teams? Want broadcast rights on ESPN, NBC, and FOX for every game? We'll just throw that in, OK?

I've asked enough rhetorical questions.

What does it all mean?

What this report, and Shoalts' own article, show is that Winnipeg and Quebec City are, at best, a crap shoot. There is a shot that it works, but not at any price. There is weak corporate support, and some misinterpretation of income levels. Neither city reaches the population level needed in the report to support a franchise.

No where in the article does Shoalts provide a basis for his claim that the report says the markets are viable. The report says they might be viable. Phoenix might be viable. Atlanta might be viable. Given a proper chance, any market might be viable. The difference is, the NHL has already been in Winnipeg and Quebec. It didn't work. We have the proof that they were given a fair chance, and failed.

The biggest concern here is what happens if the economy tanks again, as economists will tell you it inevitably will? Do we continue to move teams in and out of markets that don't work when the economy is bad? How many chances does a market get to prove its worth? 

Finally, if we cannot even interpret the words written in the English language correctly, how are we supposed to have honest assessment of the situation?

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