Friday, October 19, 2007

Is Europe the future for NHL success?

William Houston has an interesting look at what direction the NHL should be heading as it tries to come to terms with unsuccessful southern markets and potential expansion for the league.
In the Friday Globe and Mail and posted to the website, is a piece that suggests that the NHL buy out the six weakest franchises for 250 million dollars each and relocate those teams to Northern and Central European hockey hot beds. Instantly creating a European division, reaping massive television and marketing potential and making a bold step for the NHL's future look.

It's long been suggested that instead of chasing the Nashville's and Atlanta's, the NHL should instead seek out the likes of Stockholm, Prague, Moscow and other European centers that appreciate the sport and may wish to view it played at perhaps its highest level.

Houston wracked the brain of Toronto based player agent, Anton Thun who believes that a European expansion would harvest nothing but money for the NHL and he's quite puzzled by the hesitancy of the NHL to make the move.

He also urges the NHL to move quickly, before the IIHF sets up its own European Super league, potentially closing any window that the NHL might have to grow its game and change the dynamic of a league that is watching its southern flank begin to wobble.

Back when the NHL lock out took place there was some talk of setting up a Super League where locked out players would ply their trade, at the time the IIHF published a report on its website that suggested that it was a project that wouldn't last.

However, times change and with the NHL in need of an image boost and more importantly a financial boost, the prospect of a European may be timely once again. Especially when you consider the potential of having Moscow or Prague come to town, an event which surely would be more exciting to many of the stronger franchises than yet another visit from the Coyotes or Thrashers.

It would be a bold step if it ever were to take place, but judging by past history it may be an opportunity that slips through the NHL's fingers.

Europe could be the place to be for NHL
From Friday's Globe and Mail
October 18, 2007 at 8:42 PM EDT

Placing your product in a market where there's a demand is pretty elementary stuff, but the NHL had a better idea.

It established teams in regions of the United States where there was virtually no demand, at least not on television.

Now, the league is talking about doing it again by expanding to Kansas City and Las Vegas. Just the thought of it leaves Toronto-area hockey agent Anton Thun cold.

“I honestly don't know if there's any demand for hockey at all in Kansas City,” he said in an interview this week. “And I don't believe there's any demand in Las Vegas, either. So, what are we doing?”

It would help substantially if more people in the game, particularly NHL owners, asked the same question.

If the goal is to make more money for billionaire Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz, who will have a stake in the arenas in K.C. and Las Vegas, or if Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer joining the NHL as owner of the Las Vegas franchise is too exciting to resist, then the NHL's power brokers deserve the failed business model they have created.

But Thun, a lawyer and veteran player representative, says the NHL, with some smart moves, could turn around a bad situation and add a billion dollars annually to its revenue.

For starters, it would place a team in southern Ontario, which is a no-brainer given the size of the market and interest in hockey. Thun says owning that team would be a “a licence to print money.”

And then the league would move to Europe, to large northern and central European cities where hockey is a major sport. But instead of expanding, it would relocate six existing but failing teams.

Said Thun, “You would go to the six lowest revenue producing teams in the NHL and say, ‘Listen, we've got owners in Europe. We want to set up a European division. And we want to move six teams at one time. Are you willing to sell your franchise for $250-million?' I can't imagine a lot of people would say no.”

A fee of $250-million would certainly be well above market value for clubs such as Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville and Florida.

A European division could consist of franchises in any six of London, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki, Prague, Frankfurt, Berlin and Moscow. The six teams would play each other eight times, bringing each team's total to 40 games, plus 42 more against North American teams at home and away.

Travel would be an issue, but most of the interlocking games would involve North American teams closest to Europe on the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic division is a bus loop, anyway, so a few long trips wouldn't hurt.

Thun sees Europe as rich pickings given the sponsorship revenue that's available in the major cities and the potential for television, where a game of the week would easily outdraw the numbers for NBC in the United States, which earns a 1.0 rating (percentage of potential households watching) for NHL telecasts.

“In countries where you would have NHL teams, I think hockey night in Europe would be a slam dunk,” Thun said.

There are issues. Integrating North American and European television would be difficult. Prime-time telecasts in Europe would air in the afternoon in North America. Taxes for players and corporations would vary significantly from those in North American jurisdictions, but there already are tax variances and they're dealt with.

Thun, who travels to Europe regularly, believes an NHL move there should be done quickly, before an independent league is set up. The International Ice Hockey Federation may have its eye on a super league of its own, he says. The IIHF's European Champions Cup, a tournament involving the top club teams, is now in its third year.

“If the NHL doesn't get into it, quite honestly I'm concerned that the European hockey federations will set up their own league,” he said. “That would drain talent from the NHL and capture revenue that the NHL otherwise would have.”

Sid v. Habs

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby seems to be a bigger draw in Canada than the Montreal Canadiens. TSN's Florida Panthers-Habs game Tuesday was watched by 275,000. Wednesday's New Jersey Devils-Pens telecast, on TSN, had 409,000 viewers, a big number for an all-U.S. matchup.Dan Patrick, formerly of ESPN, has joined Sports Illustrated where he will write a weekly column, starting in January. The SI partnership also ties in Patrick's syndicated radio show as well as his writing a daily blog.

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