Everyone is clamoring to get in on that sweet, sweet National Hockey League business.
In Houston, Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the NBA’s Rockets, is publicly beating the drum for professional hockey in America’s fourth-largest city. In Seattle, there has been a long-term push to bring the NHL to the home of the first American team to win the Stanley Cup, the 1917 Metropolitans, with the latest examination of the possibility coming from the excellent Katie Strang at The Athletic.
Then there are perennial favorites Quebec and Kansas City, both in the NHL conversation again thanks to a piece from the league’s Canadian television partner, Sportsnet, examining potential expansion and relocation destinations for hockey.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes may be on the verge of being sold to a Texan billionaire, though whether it’s Thomas Dundon or Chuck Greenberg, and exactly what the arrangement is, remains to be seen.
The NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement runs through another four seasons after this one, though both sides have the ability to opt out 21 months from now, in which case the expiration date would be moved from 2022 to 2020. Whenever the next round of hockey labor negotiations comes, it is a certainty that owners will proclaim that the current business model is unsustainable, that they need more givebacks from labor, that they are prepared to go through another lockout, yadda yadda yadda, it’s a road we’ve already been down more times than anyone would like to remember.
Indeed, things are so bad, the NHL currently finds itself in the position of having to swat away billionaires like so many flies at a picnic as they clamor to either bring the league from its current 31 teams to 32 and allow for a symmetrical divisional alignment, or just take one team from another city and bring it to their own.
If owning an NHL team is such a terrible investment, as the world is told it is every seven to 10 years, the people interested in joining the ranks of NHL owners must be the world’s biggest idiots, which is amazing considering that they all somehow managed to become incredibly successful in business to the point of owning a sports franchise, or in Fertitta’s case, possibly multiple sports franchises if he gets his wish.
Fertitta, in particular, has shown himself not to be among the world’s biggest idiots, as the owner of the Landry’s restaurant conglomerate. He was a partner in ownership of the Houston Texans, but had to sell his interest in the team in 2008 because NFL rules prohibit team owners from operating gambling businesses, and Landry’s counts as its subsidiaries the Golden Nugget – whose Atlantic City property, for what it’s worth, and while we’re on the subject of the world’s biggest idiots, is the former Trump Marina, which Landry’s bought out of bankruptcy in 2011.
So, what gives? It’s not like the NHL is the only option for super wealthy people looking to own a sports franchise. Major League Soccer, after all, just announced that Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento are the finalist cities from which its next two expansion teams will be selected. For a patient billionaire, there’s also baseball, which has been teasing Montreal for more than a decade since the Expos bolted, but reportedly now has serious thoughts about going from 30 teams to 32.
Maybe, and this might just be crazy talk, but maybe owning a big-league sports team is a pretty sweet deal beyond just getting to have sweet seats at every game and the ability to fire your team’s general manager for making a stupid trade. Cities fall all over themselves to give out sweetheart land deals and tax breaks to sports teams (although Calgary, bless its heart, is trying to avoid doing this, sort of), they throw you a parade if you’re really successful, you get to complain along with talk radio gasbags that athletes are overpaid and ruining sports, and eventually you either sell the team for an enormous profit over the original purchase price or pass it down to your idiot children.
So, of course people with tons of money are interested in owning teams in the NHL and other leagues. If this week has shown us anything, it’s that the ultra-rich always are happy to get ultra-richer, and even if you own a sports team that does manage to lose money, boom, it’s a tax shelter, as it was when baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn denied it was in 1981, and as it still is today if you have 500 hours a year to devote to paying attention to sports, like, say, reading this column. You’re welcome, sports owners!