The deadline for applications for expansion NHL franchises was Monday, July 20, and the two cities that have submitted a bid are Las Vegas led by business man Bill Foley and Quebec City led by media conglomerate Quebecor. The NHL will do their due diligence and look at the feasibility of both markets, but it is safe to say that both cities were not the first choices for the NHL.
Las Vegas and Quebec City rank 45th and 59th respectively in TV audiences, well behind rumoured expansion spots Toronto (for a second NHL team) and Seattle.
Quebec City could work as a site for an NHL franchise simply because they are in Canada. A team’s triumphant return to the city would generate tons of ticket and merchandise sales, but there would be some challenges as well. For example, the French language may be a hindrance in terms of recruiting free agents and keeping star players, as shown by Eric Lindros when he refused to play for the team.
As well, the Canadian dollar will have a large say in how viable the team can be. All NHL players’ salaries are paid in US dollars; with our dollar hovering around 77 cents, with the potential of going even lower than that, it would be difficult for small market Canadian franchises such as Quebec City to field a competitive team.
The French language may be a hindrance to recruiting free agents and keeping star players.
Las Vegas would be an even tougher market for the NHL to break into. As a non-traditional hockey market, it will be hard for the NHL to garner a fan base compared to other leagues such as the NFL or NBA.
There is also the question of local TV broadcasting rights. While Quebec City can package TV deals in both English and French, Las Vegas will more likely than not struggle with making a serious amount on local TV rights. Sports also fall low on the totem pole in Las Vegas. As anyone who has been to Vegas can tell you, the multitude of casinos and nightclubs constitute the main entertainment in the city. The NHL would be competing against this, and it’s a battle I do not think they can win.
Expansion is a high-risk move by the NHL. They are probably better off moving struggling franchises such as Arizona, Florida, and Carolina to more receptive hockey markets. The main reason for this push for expansion is most likely the supposed $500 million the NHL wants for each of these expansion franchises, which goes directly into the owner’s pockets.
All in all, though, Quebec City would be much better off than Las Vegas.