50 Years Ago in Hockey: Vancouver Makes Its Pitch 

Foster Hewitt’s eloquent voice was heard in New York City yesterday as he and Cyrus McLean presented on behalf of the group seeking a National Hockey League expansion franchise for the city of Vancouver. The NHL board of governors are screening applications for expansion franchises this week in New York. Yesterday was the second of three days of presentations by the various groups and now all applicants have been heard from.

The governors gave no indication at the end of proceedings yesterday how they will vote or which cities have the inside track. David Molson, president of the Montreal Canadiens, said that he will be disappointed if they didn’t announce at least three acceptances later today. He even mentioned that all six franchises might be awarded at this time.

Chances of all six being awarded seem slim. The governors desperately want St. Louis in the league, but no one has come forth applying for that franchise. It seems logical that the league will keep its options open until the very last minute, hoping for someone from the Midwestern city to surface.

Hewitt: a Nine Per Cent Stake

Fred Hume, former Vancouver mayor.
Fred Hume, former Vancouver mayor.

Foster Hewitt owns nine per cent of the stock for the prospective Vancouver franchise. He spoke to Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star about his involvement with the effort to bring big-league hockey to Canada’s west coast.

“There were two groups in Vancouver. I soon discovered I was talking to the wrong one. So I switched over to Cyrus McLean and his associates.”

Foster was asked why, after all his years of broadcasting the game, he wants to become involved in ownership. His reply was simple:

“I don’t know why, but I always wanted to do it.”

The Vancouver group is divided among an interesting group. McLean will own 22 per cent of the team, if it’s admitted to the league. He is a telecommunications magnate from Vancouver who began as a telephone lineman and worked his way up to become vice-president of B.C. Telephone.

Nat Bailey, a baseball man, will have 13.5 per cent. Fred Hume, a former Vancouver mayor and the previous owner of the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League, has a 10 per cent stake.

PNE Guarantees Arena

One of the feature’s of the Vancouver presentation was a letter from a group of architects that said that if Vancouver is approved, construction of a new arena on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds could begin by May.

The arena would seat 16,000 for hockey and would be part of the exhibition complex. The provincial and federal governments would each contribute 2 million dollars. That balance would come from PNE authorities.

Smythe Not Impressed

Stafford Smythe and Harold Ballard were turned down when they offered to build a Vancouver arena.
Stafford Smythe and Harold Ballard were turned down when they offered to build a Vancouver arena.

Stafford Smythe, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, made an ominous declaration after the Vancouver pitch. It’s clear Smythe can hold a grudge for a long time:

“Too many 10 per centers. They’ve got 10 guys with little bits of the action instead of one or two who can make the decisions. I’m flabbergasted that the presentation could be so stupid in having its strength spread through 10 or more people.

“I don’t think Vancouver will get NHL hockey for a generation, and I’ve thought this since the city turned down the Leafs’ offer to build a rink out there if the city would give us the land.

“Besides, Vancouver is the smallest of all the areas we’re considering. We can’t get any more TV customers out there because we’ve got ‘em all now with our Saturday night telecasts.”

Lots of Choices for LA

Jack Kent Cooke right) during his tenure as owner of the baseball Maple Leafs
Jack Kent Cooke right) during his tenure as owner of the baseball Maple Leafs

Los Angeles seems the surest bet to win a franchise today. The governors will choose between two main groups. Canadian expatriate Jack Kent Cooke may have the inside track. The former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League in baseball now owns the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association.

The other main group is headed by Clarence Martin, who is the former U.S. under-secretary of commerce and Dan Reeves, owner of the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. Jim Piggott and Bob Reynolds, who with Reeves owns the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League is also involved in the group. The Los Angeles Coliseum commission supports the group.


Dan Reeves, owner of the LA Rams and LA Blades.
Dan Reeves, owner of the LA Rams and LA Blades.

Piggott is a Saskatchewan native who moved the Blades to Los Angeles from Victoria B.C. five years ago. His main business is construction. Reynolds is a former football player who runs the California Angels of the American League for Gene Autry. His main claim to fame  (according to him) is having played the full 60 minutes in three consecutive Rose Bowl games for Stanford back in the 1930s.

There are reports that if the Blades’ group is not accepted it will sue the NHL. Piggott tried to downplay the rumours. But he left no doubt that he considers his group the only one qualified to run a team in Los Angeles:

“We feel we deserve consideration because we’re the hockey people out there. We wouldn’t talk about legal action until we’re turned down.”

Ralph Wilson would move to California if awarded an LA franchise.
Ralph Wilson would move to California if awarded an LA franchise.

Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League also applied for a franchise. In his presentation he highlighted his personal strength and his devotion to running a west coast NHL team. He promised to move to California if his bid was successful:

“I’m on the AFL expansion committee and I know what you’re seeking. One man who can make decisions. I’m that kind of man.”

A fourth bid for Los Angeles came from George Eby, who represented Metromedia, a national television chain who also owns the Ice Capades. Smythe likes this group because “they know a lot about TV.”

Shasta Corporation Will Get San Francisco Club

San Francisco had only one group apply, and that will likely be the advantage that lands the franchise for Shasta Corporation. George Fleherty is the president of Shasta, and made the presentation. Just weeks before the meetings in New York, the Shasta group merged with the owners of the San Francisco Seals of the WHL, who also sought a franchise.

Jerry Wolman
Jerry Wolman

Stafford Smythe of the Toronto Maple Leafs said that the San Francisco presentation was the best heard on the first day.

Dunnell believes that the three franchises announced today will be Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver.

Philly Surprisingly Strong

A surprisingly strong application came out Philadelphia. That group is fronted by New York investment counsellor Bill Putnam and features Jerry Wolman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL as a minority stockholder. The group has promised that once a franchise is secured, work will begin immediately on a new 15,000 arena.

One problem with the Philadelphia application is the proximity to Baltimore. Baltimore is believed to be more attractive to the governors.

The second bid from Pittsburgh was also heard yesterday. Senator Jack McGregor made the presentation. He spoke on behalf of a group of 31 investors. Most high-profile of that group is Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League.

Norris Not Happy

James Norris Jr.
James Norris Jr.

One NHL governor who is not excited about expansion is Jim Norris of Chicago. Rumours suggest that the only way he would approve the motion for expansion is if St. Louis is included and any new owner would have to purchase the St. Louis arena from him and his partner Arthur Wirtz.

Norris gave reasons why, to him, expansion makes no sense:

“We can’t make a nickel by expanding. So the new guys will cough up $2,000,000 for a franchise and players. How much will we see of this, after taxes?”

Norris also says that the supposed television money waiting to be picked up makes no difference to him. He said that the Black Hawks already get $200,000 for televising 35 away games.

AHL Will Demand Indemnities of $1.8 Million

AHL president Jack Riley
AHL president Jack Riley

The American Hockey League will demand indemnities of $1,800,000 from any of its members who join the National Hockey League. Baltimore, Buffalo and Pittsburgh are all being considered as sites for NHL expansion teams.

AHL president Jack Riley explained the league’s decision:

“It was decided by a vote of 6-3 that every city jumping to the NHL must indemnify the remaining cities with $225,000. If Baltimore deserts us, say, we want $1,800,000 in heartbalm for the others.”

The three cities who voted against the indemnification were, coincidentally, Buffalo, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

There is a history of indemnification for intrusion on team territories in other sports. In 1953 the Boston Braves paid $50,000 to every other club in the American Association when it moved into Milwaukee. The same thing happened in 1954 when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore. Each International League team received $47,000 from the Orioles.

In 1955 when the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City, the American Association teams were given $50,000.

The biggest payment on record happened in 1958 when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The two teams paid a total of $900,000 to the teams in the Pacific Coast League.