Parity in the league has never been tighter

From time to time I read something from NHL fans or hockey media types claiming that expansion will ruin the game because of parity or dilution of talent. I get pretty dismissive about their “arguments” as very few of these claims are based on facts or data. I decided to investigate it on my own. This will be the 1st post in a 3 part series that talks about why the league is ready for expansion. As with most of my posts, I tell the story with data.

Margin of Victory

Regular season games are getting tighter. Excluding ties, the margin of victory has declined since 97.

marginofvictory

Standings Distribution

The standings are also getting tighter.

StandingsSome of the expansion efforts in the 90s contributed to the teams with less than 50 points in a season however if you look at the teams with 51 to 60 points between 1990 to 1997, they were well established teams (Leafs, Oilers, Islanders, Jets, Nords).  Now it should also be pointed out that OT, Shootout rules and the rise of the 3 point game is also a contributing factor here.

League Champions

Compared to other leagues, the NHL has produced the most unique champions over the last 15 years.

ChampsLeague parity is not a reason alone to expand as the player pool should also be considered to support the additional teams. I will look at that aspect in my next post.

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Wrapping up the Las Vegas News

In case you have been living under a rock, Monday afternoon the NHL gave approval to prospective franchise owner in Las Vegas, Bill Foley, clearance to build a Season Ticket List. Bettman vegascautioned that this should not be seen a s a green light to expansion. Expansion and Las Vegas dominated the news out of the NHL Board of Governors meeting. To help you separate the signal from the noise, I’ve highlighted some of the best articles, podcasts and videos on the topic.

Here is the roundup of the best articles I’ve seen on Las Vegas (even if their opinions differ than mine).

Pre-Announcement

Scott Burnside wrote an excellent article covering the risks and potential of NHL Expansion in Vegas. I’ve seen very few articles go into this length level of depth of any perspective markets. Open, balanced and fair.

On the announcement:

Video of the announcement from Gary Bettman and dialogue with Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos.

One more clip from Sportsnet.ca Interesting quote on this one. (Paraphrasing) Daly said that the owners were briefed on other options for expansion. Those developments are evolving. Nick Kypreos seems to be the most vocal on the concerns.

Post Announcement:

Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski calls into Seattle’s AM 710 ESPN Radio Show with Michael Grey. Wyshynski says “It’s a matter of when, not if, for the NHL in Seattle”. Wyshynski has a great perspective and most of his comments are in line with a lot of what we have been discussing here.

The Globe and Mail weighs in: Las Vegas season-ticket drive raises more questions about NHL expansion

Great overview on the NHL Las Vegas situation from Stephen Whyno. Stephen’s been on top of this for a while and isn’t just picking up on the news item of the week.

Elliotte Friedman and the Sportsnet team debate the process and credibility of a Season Ticket Drive. There is some good comments and debate. I love Elliotte’s comments. He does comment about the Seattle and thinks the Ballmer purchase of Clippers puts Seattle in flux.

Another good article from highly respected Nicholas Costanika.

Gary Lawless takes the opposite stand: thinks contraction vs. expansion. Needless to say I could not agree with him less. Sure I am biased but people who talk about a watered-down league are old school and can’t point to anything qualitative.

Quantifying the Seattle market

When people ask me why Seattle will make a good market for the NHL, I often cite that Seattle is the 13 biggest TV market in the US and the second biggest market without a team. Or I might reference the strong corporate support we have here with big companies like Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Costco, Starbucks or the countless mid-size tech companies like Expedia, Bungie, F5 Networks, Tableau Software, Zillow or Zuilily. There is also one of the largest adult hockey leagues in the US. I’ve already shown that Seattle has the 7th highest average income of the top 50 biggest metropolitan areas but I’ve always had an issue with the average. The disparity, wage gap or whatever else you want to call it, could distort that number….but over the weekend I was finally able to find some census data that I’ve been trying to find for a couple years.

Earlier this year, Nielsen published the Year in Sports Media Report: 2013. In it, there was a little profile on the NHL Fan Demographic.

NielsenReport

53% of NHL Fans have a household income of over $75K a year. That number is the largest % in that bracket of all big 5 leagues. When business owners or potential business owners are looking to expand, they will look at these key figures to determine the potential of the market. According to the Census data, King and the surround counties, 63% of households have income over $75K a year. I then pulled data for a couple other metropolitan areas to see how we stack up.

householdsThis shows why most of the NHL brass is high on Seattle (if we can get that darn arena thing figured out). This does not mean that hockey will grip this city like the Sounders where their attendance is more than double the league average. It also speaks to the potential of the market and exposing hockey to people that might not get exposed to it any other way.

To be clear, I am not saying Las Vegas will not work. It is a totally different market and will be very unconventional. I simply do not know the business model and strategy of that owners for the market. Oklahoma City Thunder has been wildly successful being the first and only pro sports franchise in the area and Vegas might be able to pull off something similar. (OKC also benefits from a winning product on the court which will help any market.)

Disclosures on how I collected the data:

Long story short, It was a tedious manual exercise. I pulled data by county that would be considered in market. Denver had several counties near by where Las Vegas only had one (Clark). To determine which counties to include, I based it on the biggest city in the county being 45 minutes from the City. I wish I could have pulled data for every NHL Team and every potential market but I simply did not have the time. If you have feedback, issues, questions or requests don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment here. Here is a list of the counties I used for each market. 

table

SoDo Arena current state of an NHL first scenario: A little refresher

It is commonly known that the NHL must have assurances of a new Arena in Seattle before awarding the city an NHL franchise. The blocking issue is not as simple as rewriting the current MOU to enable an NHL-first scenario.

For those that don’t know, the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Seattle and King County requires an NBA franchise before construction can begin on the SoDo site. As much as we would like to do a “find & replace” on NBA, it isn’t remotely that simple. First off, Chris Hansen, who signed the MOU with the City & County owns $60Million worth of land on the site wants an NBA team and an NHL ownership group as a partner. The prospective NHL Ownership Group will need to work with Chris Hansen on the nature of their partnership while Hansen still needs to protect his interest/investment should the NBA never come back to Seattle. Of course, Hansen will need to know who the NHL will be selecting before he signs anything binding. If the City & County is going to change the MOU to an NHL first scenario, they must also perform some due diligence on prospective NHL owner (assuming they will be named on the MOU). Oh and we are still waiting for the Final Environmental Impact Study to be completed. So yes…this is complex. There is no one to blame here and based on the one time we have heard from Victor Coleman, he has a “clear path” to getting resolution.

NHLtoSeattleOpenItems

Sin City and the NHL

As you may have seen, Michael Russo wrote an excellent article about the prospects of putting an NHL team in Vegas. The difference between this report and earlier 2012+NHL+Entry+Draft+Rounds+2+7+lyfx4JlSpv9lrumors circulating on Vegas are the quotes and confirmation from the NHL’s own Bill Daly.

When the reports started surfacing of Vegas being the location of an NHL team, I certainly had my doubts. Small city, lack of local support, lower income etc.Vegas doesn’t rank in the top 40 for TV markets and is ranked 34th in Average Income of US Cities with more than a million people.

However, Las Vegas is like no other market in the NHL and predicting the success based exclusively on conventional metrics is not realistic.Ad dollars will be huge and entertainment revenues are exceeding gaming revenue for several major hotel properties. Yes, the NHL is more dependent on Gate Revenue than any other professional sports league but does that mean it must be so for all franchises? Could being the only Pro Sports team in city be the ticket to success? I don’t know the answers. By the sounds of Daly’s quotes in the article it doesn’t sound like he is convinced either and that will be part of the due diligence. Airing it out so publicly could be a way to see how much local interest is out there.

The more important takeaways from the article is that Daly and the NHL are at least acknowledging expansion and imply that expansion will need to happen in the west. This could be off the cuff remarks or could even be negotiating tactics to extract more expansion $ out of some eastern Canadian city that is well positioned with an arena.

This certainly will not be the last we hear about Vegas and the optimist would say Vegas needs a dancing partner. My advice, don’t get let this news get you too high or too low, it’s going to be a long and bumpy road.

NHLDemoincomeandTVmarket

 

Quick thoughts on Florida Attendance

In case you missed it, there were several photos of an empty arena during the Florida Panthers game last night. People quickly tagged me, mentioned me and emailed last night with references to moving the Panthers to Seattle. I get it, it looks bad and we knew this was coming based on announcements from the new owner in September.

As many of you know, I have never been a fan for relocation as most attendance drops are short term in view and usually tied to poor performance on the ice. So I quickly reminded people that it was not too long ago that the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins were all lagers in the attendance department.

Recapping some stories of the week

Here is a quick summary of some of the stories that were passed around this week relevant to the NHL coming to Seattle.

Seattle Arena EIS

KOMO news reported that the Arena EIS process was delayed again. Which is pretty consistent with what we heard from Chris Daniels in July. I dismissed it as no news but then…

Chris Daniels from King5 gives us significant insight to the EIS timeline: Hansen submits final paperwork for EIS piece of Seattle Arena.

I do not want to imply that this is earth shattering news but it was the necessary next step in the EIS process so great to see this progressing.

Arizona Coyotes Ownership

Yes, we are actually talking about the Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Ownership again. Respected reporter from the New York Post, Larry Brooks published this article that the Coyotes were looking for new investors. The tone of the article gave anti-sunbelt critics plenty of material to work with for a day or so. I usually try to give this types of stories some time to breath before forming an opinion based on a source. The article turned out to be fairly accurate but there was certainly more to the story.

Enter Craig Morgan from the Arizona Republic. Craig posted this follow up on the report with more specific information and a very different tone. One nugget of information is that the Valuation is somewhere in the $305M range just a year after the team was purchased for $170M. Without knowing the specifics of the deal between all parties, it’s really hard to assess what is really going on here. Either way, Craig’s article is certainly spinning it as a very positive thing for the Coyotes.

To tie a bow on it, Joe Yerdon wrote this piece on the situation. The article is worth a read. The cliff notes version is that as much as fans and media have been critical of how Bettman handled the Coyotes situation, the value has gone up, he did not lose a top US TV market and with the new investor, they have more stability and some options.

My take, which is not really going out on a limb, is reality is somewhere in the middle. I have always felt the Coyotes out clause is a reasonable option should the franchise not turn around. I have never felt a move was inevitable. Hopefully the money with help the Coyotes with a marketing push and a potential playoff run. I believe in hockey very much and think with the right ownership group the Coyotes can make it in Glendale. If they can’t, even people in Arizona can not blame the league for trying to make it work.

Portland

Paul Allen sat down for an interview with the Oregonian about the upcoming Trailblazer season and he was asked about the likelihood of bringing an NHL team to Portland inPORTLAND-10 the next five year. (Last Question in the article) His response is consistent with previously reported news about Portland. For those that don’t know, Portland was on the shortlist of destination cities for the Coyotes back in June of 2013.

ProHockeyTalk then summed up the whole story very well with this article. It is a great piece to get caught up on the Portland scenario.

I believe Portland & Paul Allen could be a player in expansion or relocation. Based on everything I have read, I still believe that Seattle is the most preferred city of all cities mentioned so if our Arena plan hits some snags, Portland might move from a contingency plan to “the plan”. IF and it is a big if, the Coyotes ownership ends up exercising their escape plan, Portland could be the destination. That said, I don’t think Paul Allen wants to be the landlord, he wants to be the owner of the team.