The reality of European expansion
Craig Custance had a nice piece in Sporting News Today yesterday that was a brief Q&A with NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly about a variety of things. The most interesting tidbits were all on European expansion, a topic that has always struck me as a ridiculous pipe dream.
Kelly doesn't think so:
Q: When is European expansion feasible?Somehow, if the NHL does manage to invade Stockholm, I honestly doubt the Elitserien is going to be at the top of the list of "chief concerns" from a North American perspective.
A: Frankly, in that five- to ten-year range, our sport has to take a hard serious look at that. We would be shortsighted not to seriously explore if that can work. You want to make sure it doesn't do damage to these other hockey leagues — you don't want to damage the Swedish Elite league, we have to make sure we can do something good for the NHL, but also for the harmony of hockey.
The rhetoric here actually reminds me of what we're hearing from the NFL these days when it comes to that league's forays into the Toronto market. (For the uninitiated, the Buffalo Bills are playing a series of expansion and regular season games out of the Rogers Centre beginning this season.)
Here's NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week on the games: "I don't see any reason why one regular season game will impact negatively on the CFL. Having the CFL stay strong is good for all of us. It's good for football. ... We worked hard at the NFL to make sure we have a good relationship with the CFL."
I'm no football aficionado, but having read the tea leaves, it seems to me all but certain that, in that five- to 10-year window, the NFL will look to move to Toronto. The games scheduled have been ridiculously successful in terms of generating revenue — mainly because the Bills can charge more than $200 for an average ticket compared to just $51 at Ralph Wilson Stadium — and that, more than any affinity for the CFL, will be what dictates the league's presence here in the future.
I don't have all of the ticket information, but it's my understanding that NHL-sponsored events this fall in Europe such as the Victoria Cup in Switzerland and the regular season games in Sweden and the Czech Republic sold exceptionally well. Perhaps not "NFL in Toronto" well, but good enough that these forays are almost certain to become the norm.
Down the line, they might even give way to legitimate talks of expansion overseas — regardless of what teams are currently present in those markets.
With expansion, money talks. There's also a curious synergy so far in the games in Europe, what with last year's Ducks-Kings series in London taking place in the O2 arena, and this season's Rangers-Lightning games being played in Prague's O2.
Anyone want to guess the chances the games head to Berlin in 2009-10 when Germany's O2 is up and ready?
We've heard plenty about how the Kings owner, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, has led the charge to get NHL rinks (and potentially teams) in Kansas City and Las Vegas, but what of all of these European games in AEG-operated rinks?
It's probably time to rethink the idea of European expansion as a pipe dream. If AEG can put a bankrupt owner into the Nashville group without anyone saying boo, who's to say what's next?
If there are buildings, fans and a league willing to jump, what's to stop them?