The Business Of Sports: What You See And What You Don’t, And Its Impact…

Marc Elliott

BIG SANDY LAKE… This morning prior to the Detroit Red Wings vs. St. Louis Blues tilt, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced a rescheduling of the Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs Winter Classic game for New Year’s Day of 2014. This event will still be held on the University of Michigan campus at their football stadium affectionately known as “The Big House.” The league is expecting a sold-out crowd of 105,000 screaming fans. I must admit I love this event. It is catching on in many other venues as well, with minor leagues and the NCAA getting in on the aura of playing a game out in the elements.  
For the NHL, game-day revenues aside, this event is a marketing coup. It has traditionally been played at high noon on game day, and with the changing dynamics of the college football bowl game scene, with their not dominating New Year’s Day as they had in the past, this game time was a natural sports-viewing void of sorts for the league to step into and fill. Add the sentimental value of a game played in the great outdoors that tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who ever laced ‘em up outside, and the whole day is a total smile fest.
The big news of the commish’s press conference, though, was when he was queried about the prospects of the Phoenix Coyotes relocating in the near future. And certainly this is an issue that has dragged on ad nauseam since former owner Jerry Noyes declared bankruptcy and turned the club over to the league in 2009. Through a combination of buyers who couldn’t come up with the financing, or buyers who could only to be stymied by a political action group that didn’t like the arrangements made between them and the municipal owners of the arena they play in (the city of Glendale, AZ), the sale of this club has gone nowhere. By my count there has been a minimum of four failed Romeos left on the ground beneath the balcony in pursuit of the Yotes.
So you would think the league would just decide to up and move this club to a locale where the business climate was a bit friendlier. Seattle is hot for a team, Kansas City as well, and north of the border Quebec City and then Toronto, which with a metro area population of 6 mil people is seeking a second NHL team. This is where it gets sticky, though, and also where you have to read between the lines to figure out what might really be happening.
First off, the league’s TV deal with NBC sports just might be predicated on certain teams staying put in certain TV markets, regardless of how these clubs might be doing at the gate. Moving the team out of Glendale could skewer that. Add to the mix that NBC sports is now owned by the Comcast conglomerate, which is mostly owned by Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider ,and the waters start to muddy up a bit. Enter into the fray that current relocation fees are about $60 to $80 mil, versus the upwards of $500 mil an expansion fee could bring the league (which is split amongst current team owners), and there could exist some serious pressure for the Yotays to stay right where they are.
With realignment not being a dirty word within the league anymore, and with the league possibly going from an imbalanced 30 teams to a balanced 32, the current group of owners could split a cool $1 bil between themselves from two expansion clubs. So they really don’t want to see the Desert Dogs uprooted. You won’t hear this from the commish, though. On top of that, dare I say that for the first 11 years of his tenure, I wasn’t a fan of his. That changed during the first lockout, when he became a lot more visible to the league fan base and I was onboard with the economic changes he championed.
We know how those turned out, now don’t we? Post-lockout number two, with a much less visible Bettman, seemingly more terse with fans and the media, and now answering any and all inquiries sent his way with lawyer-speak mixed in with a little “snarkiness,” I’m just not standing with him at this point. The league I love suddenly has a lot more corporate feel to it than it did before this past lockout occurred. I especially don’t like it when fans and media alike are left to figure out things for themselves, such as the real Phoenix situation.  
But it would be naïve for me to think that Bettman is going to share intimate goings-on of the league with the fan base. At the end of the day, the owners are a good old boy network, and they are all about money, aren’t they? It really is that simple. At the end of the day, it makes more sense for the team to stay in Glendale. The loss of a tenant like the NHL has negative impact that is several-fold. Bettman claims there is “considerable interest” from suitors who would own the club if the logistics could be worked out. Well, Gary, step up to the plate, partner. You have shown all of us that you are pretty good at lockouts, pretty good at pushing around and negating the power of the players’ union. Now let’s see if you can close this deal once and for all. Are you up to it? PEACE
MFAN EXTRA: The NCAA Frozen Four is set to take place this Thursday and Saturday respectively at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. In Game One, upstart Yale will take on U-Mass Lowell. Later on St. Cloud State will take on the overall number one Quinnipiac. Some purists might say, gee whiz, there are none of the highly rated, historical power programs here. They would be right. But I’m OK with that. These are the teams that are left. They have won fair and square, so here we go.   
Give me Yale to beat Lowell—I like their forwards, goaltending, and tenacity. Give me The Cloud to beat Quinnipiac. I think the ‘Q’ is a tough team led by goalie Eric Hartzell, but The Cloud just doesn’t seem to get rattled by in-game circumstances. They just keep coming at you. Then in a hard-fought tilt going at least one OT, give me The Cloud to take it all. Can’t wait! OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.