NHL Expansion: Time to Put a Second Team in Toronto

Jul 9, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; A plane takes off from Billy Bishop City Airport in front of the Toronto skyline in preparation for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 9, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; A plane takes off from Billy Bishop City Airport in front of the Toronto skyline in preparation for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Premier League has five teams in London, yet the NHL has only one in Toronto – It’s time for Gary Bettman to consider NHL expansion in the GTA.

Albert Einstein once explained the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The NHL is once again trying to create a hockey market out of a warm weather US city, with the announcement it has granted an expansion franchise to Las Vegas.

It’s safe to assume the luxury suites at the Vegas arena will sell out with ease, but beyond that it is still a mystery as to what the appeal of hockey will be to the people of the state of Nevada. Yes, the ownership group in Vegas was able to cover the cost of the expansion fee and arena.

However, it doesn’t mean a team in the middle of a hockey hot bed like Nevada has a long-term plan for success in place, that will help locals embrace this franchise and create a supportive culture that helps connect the community and their hockey team for many years to come. Vegas is a city whose culture encourages decadence and impulse.

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It is more likely that the novelty of the hot ticket in town wears off after the teams inaugural season. This leads to the possibility the hockey team will be playing in front of a completely empty arena, aside from the 30 different bachelor parties in town that weekend and the C-List actors who were comped a pair of tickets from the pit boss.

The NHL pulled a team out of Atlanta five years ago and the Arizona and Carolina franchises have been struggling with the league’s worst attendance records for a few years. Regardless, the NHL continues to try and push hockey in warm weather American cities with zero hockey culture to speak of and then wonder why things don’t work out.

It’s time the NHL took a page from the English Premier League and simply stock pile franchises in  markets that actually have the passionate fan bases to financially support the teams for decades. London, UK has a population of 8.5 million, yet they have five Premier League teams within just a few miles of each other (plus eight other clubs in the lower leagues).

NHL expansion
Jul 26, 2014; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls fans cheer during the second half of a game at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls defeated Arsenal 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

I am no financial expert, but it doesn’t appear to me that London clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal are suffering financially because there is another franchise just down the street from them. Nor does it appear Manchester United is struggling financially or that their global brand is in danger, because of the recent success of their neighbors Manchester City.

The same goes in Spain with Real Madrid and Athletico Madrid and in Italy with AC Milan and Inter Milan. Multiple teams in one city major city doesn’t hurt your bottom line, it only makes it stronger.

Rivalry creates a deeper brand loyalty.

I don’t need to point out there are two NHL teams in New York (three if you consider how close New Jersey is) and they also have a current population of 8.5 million. According to government statistics, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will have a population over 9 million by the year 2036, and yet Toronto still only has one hockey team to call their own.

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The argument the NHL will make is that putting a second franchise may affect the Toronto Maple Leafs bottom line, when the likelihood is it would only strengthen it. One of the major issues facing the NHL is the lack of an American (and global) TV deal.

Part of the reason is there are very few rivalries that create an interest outside of the local viewing area. Aside from the Premier League and their multiple inner city rivalries (derbies), the NCAA has built an empire on rivalry in the United States, because it makes for fascinating television; which they in turn sell for massive advertising revenue.

How many of us Canadians watch NCAA games featuring Auburn vs. Alabama, USC vs. UCLA, and Duke vs. North Carolina and so on? Each of those schools are separated by just a few miles, which leads to an electric stadium atmosphere at each of their games and makes for interesting and very profitable TV.

Aside from Toronto vs. Montreal and Calgary vs. Edmonton, there are very few rivalries in the NHL that are must-watch TV and can attract even the casual fan. Adding a team in Las Vegas doesn’t make for an interesting watch, because there will likely be certain nights when they’ll feel like a road team in their own building, with the opposing teams fans out numbering locals.

Next: The Auston Matthews era begins in Toronto

When the next round of expansion talks begin for the NHL, it’s time to stop with the experiments and pipe dreams and simply put a team into a market that has deep pockets and a fan base with a rabid passion for the game of hockey. It’s time the NHL put a team in a city that can guarantee a successful franchise; Toronto.