Sunday, April 09, 2006

Penguins Trying To Establish Plan B

The most successful way to "blackmail" a new arena from local government is with leverage. A team must establish that they have legitimate other options that would hurt the local region if they do not get the arena that they want.

The Pittsburgh Penguins play in Mellon Arena which is one of the smallest, oldest NHL arenas in existance. Pittsburgh Penguin ownership has been pushing for local government to buy them a new arena. The local governments have offered development rights to the Mellon Arena grounds if the Pens come up with the roughly $300 million it will take to build a new arena. Pittsburgh Penguins ownership would much rather have local government money spent on building a new arena (as the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and the Pittsburgh Pirates of MLB have had). The best offer that Pittsburgh's current ownership has is to get a casino licence to finance the new arena. Due to other pressures like the Rick Tocchet gambling scandal, the NHL would like to not be further tied up in the gambling industries. This plan is not what the Penguins really want. They want local government to provide (or at least significantly finance) a new arena.

The trick is to show that there is a legitimate interest and a viable plan to move the Penguins from Pittsburgh. One of the first attempts at this is Kansas City where they are building a new arena. I don't think anyone seriously argues that Kansas City is a better hockey market than Pittsburgh is. I think the only argument for Kansas City over Pittsburgh is that a stadium exists there. While Kansas City may want the Penguins, they cannot and will not make media appearances on the side of the current Penguins ownership trying to extort a better arena deal for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh ownership seems to have found that group now. Lawrence Gottsdiener, a Conneticut property owner, claims he is willing to buy the Penguins and either keep the team in Pittsburgh if he can get an arena deal or move it to Hartford. Hartford was home to the Hartford Whalers until they moved to Carolina in 1997. There is no reason to believe that Hartford is a better market now then it was when it failed previously. Is the Hartford threat enough to get a better arena deal from local politicians? I see no reason to believe that Hartford would be a better NHL market then Pittsburgh already is. But it might be a legitimate threat to obtain arena concessions.

Pittsburgh does not appear to have any markets that are as good hockey markets as Pittsburgh that are available for a move. They do have a few markets that have better stadiums but a less proven group of hockey fans. I think Hartford and Kansas City are empty threats designed to scare the local governments. However, there is a point coming soon where it appears the Penguins will either have to sink more money than they want into a new stadium in Pittsburgh or they will have to move to a worse market with a better available stadium.

For a different look (much more inline with the NHL's media view) look to TSN.

What about Winnipeg? They recently built a brand new high-class facility in the city, and everyone knows that Winnipegers will NOT take their team for granted this time.
I agree completely that those are empty threats. At the very least, I'm sure that Hartford is. They're not going to build an arena there. However, even if they played in the mall, it would still be an improvement over Mellon Arena.

Kansas City would be interesting, though. They are a more viable market than they were when the Scouts were there. It would create some interesting realignment scenarios, too. Nashville to the East?
As much as Canadian fans might like to see a team move to Winnipeg it won't happen in the near future. Winnipeg is nowhere as far as the NHL is concerned. If teams move anywhere they will move to viable major US markets (should any exist) in a fuirther attempt to get the all elusive major US TV deal.

The only possible exception would be if the Toronto Maple Leafs could be convinced to allow a second team in Southern Ontario.
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