Make no mistake about it – Toronto is thee definition of a hockey town. Despite qualifying for the post-season only once since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the Leafs are not only Forbes Magazine’s most lucrative NHL franchise, they’re the only NHL team to crack the publication’s top 50 list, which ranks all franchises in sports. Naturally, it’s a strong enough market to sustain two teams, right? Perhaps. But that doesn’t necessarily make adding another team in Toronto an optimal concept.
Original 6 vs. Novice
Money aside, as if that’s an actual thing, the idea of implanting another team in Toronto is a mockery of the rich history that the Leafs have built since their inception as the Toronto Arenas in 1917. And despite currently owning the longest Stanley Cup drought in the league, the team continues to be an ATM machine on steroids.
“The Maple Leafs are the only NHL team on Forbes’s list of the 50 most valuable franchises in sports, checking in at No. 26.
“According to Forbes, the Leafs are worth US$1.15 billion and have been the most valuable NHL team since 2005 despite making just one playoff appearance in that time.” — The Canadian Press via The Province
THW’s James Tanner recently wrote about disrupting the proverbial cash cow that is the Maple Leafs on Hockey Buzz. Tanner describes and questions the ill effects of potentially pushing the envelope in the effort to increase an already astounding income.
“But, long term, the league would be making a huge mistake at the expense of short-sighted thinking. The NHL’s premier team is the Toronto Maple Leafs and doing anything to spit on, piss off, annoy or disrupt your best asset is never a good move. The Leafs are a license for the NHL to print money and they would be foolish to do anything to alter this. There is a 20 year waiting list to buy Leafs season tickets. There are over 4000 people on that list. Why would you mess with that?” — James Tanner
Even with last season’s epic collapse, which resulted in the Leafs missing out on the playoffs, Toronto isn’t reverting to gimmick marketing to hold onto what’s been theirs throughout their storied existence. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Call it Toronto’s acquired addiction to abuse if you must, but the Leafs ended the 2013-14 season with by far the most expensive average ticket in the league.
Although Toronto was third in average home attendance, drawing in 19,698, fans paid the average of $342 per ticket. That dwarfs any other team in the NHL, including the third ranked Montreal Canadiens ($247). If Leafs fans are willing to shell that kind of dough for what they were witnessing last season, there’s no question which sport is the top dog in Toronto. But does that mean a novice team would experience the same success? Or are the fans of Toronto that attached to their Maple Leafs?
2 teams u simply can't be "going negative" on b/c of the extreme wealth of franchise & loyalty of fans: Knicks post-94, Leafs post-forever.
— Greg Brady (@gregbradyTO) July 2, 2014
“There’s a lot of research around two franchises, one league, same city, said sports business expert Norm O’Reilly back in 2010. “And there’s two camps. Camp A says its great, there’s nothing better than to have a rival down the street. It grows for both. There’s another camp that says the opposite. Being a monopoly in your environment is the way to be.”
While the NHL currently offers competing markets in the manner of the Rangers and Islanders, it doesn’t necessarily equate to results. The Islanders, who like the Leafs, have struggled mightily since enjoying a 14-year consecutive playoff berth run from 1975 to 1988. And despite sporadic playoff appearances since, the Isles have toiled in futility as the Nassau Coliseum fell down on their heads. And although both the Leafs and Isles have experienced their fair share of blunders from management, it’s the Islanders who are now moving to Brooklyn, while the Leafs continue to stack money.
“It’s hometown blood. I could never be anything but a Leafs fan,” said Leafs fan Tricia Roselli.
“I never miss a game, I just love this team more than anything,” said another Leafs fan, Jeremy Birley. “If you’re going to call yourself a diehard fan you support the team, even in the hard times. You support the team no matter what.”
That type of mentality rules supreme in Toronto. And while others may argue that it worked for New York throughout the Islanders’ dynasty years, it doesn’t take into account the fact that the Rangers are the fourth most popular team in the city.
A report featured in Forbes Magazine back in July of 2013 shared the gross revenue of New York’s most popular sports teams. The Yankees pulled in a whopping $635 million of gross revenue, while the Giants were second with $362 million. The Rangers and their $213 million trailed not only the Yankees and Giants, but the Knicks as well. Where were the Islanders on the list? Simply put – AWOL.
Effect on Other Teams
Even if the facts above are not enough to sway support against another team in Toronto, perhaps the effect it could have on the city’s other sports team could. Despite the Leafs ruling the city, Toronto also touts teams in the NBA, MLB, MLS, and even the CFL. Let’s not forget about the Marlies either, who are the Leafs’ AHL affiliate.
“The league will always prefer two monopoly markets to one duopoly (two-team) market. This is because the damage to the existing team, in this case the Leafs (and maybe even the Sabres and Wings), is always greater than the increase in value to the new team,” said John Vrooman, an economics professor at Vanderbilt University.
If Toronto gets a 2nd NHL team will fans support it? I mean, how do you decide to start cheering for them if you are a lifelong Leafs fan?
— G. Jason Head (@gjhead) August 27, 2014
If damage is done to the league’s wealthiest team, can you imagine the ramifications to the city’s other teams? After all, the Toronto Raptors led the Atlantic Division last season with a 48-34 record, and still came out 18th on Forbes’ list of NBA team value. From the same source, the Blue Jays ranked in the exact spot on their MLB list. Only Toronto’s MLS club ranked inside the top 10, despite their $121 million value being lower than both the Raptors and Blue Jays.
Another team in Toronto would not only cut into these other teams’ already lesser revenue, it’d also infringe on the Marlies. Toronto’s farm club ranked ninth in AHL average attendance, which isn’t spectacular considering how difficult and expensive it is to get a Leafs ticket. It’s even more disappointing when Cleveland’s Lake Erie Monsters sit six spots ahead on the list. To be fair, the Marlies’ Ricoh Coliseum is considerably smaller than Lake Erie’s Quicken Loans Arena. But in comparison of the two cities based on overall hockey interest, it’s a loss for the Marlies.
Spread the Wealth… Elsewhere
Those who are calling Leafs ownership greedy for wanting to monopolize the Toronto market are guilty themselves of this very accusation. While the Eastern Conference possesses two more teams than their counterpart in the West, somehow advocates of another team in Toronto seem to either ignore this predicament, or flat out don’t care.
Either way, the math doesn’t add up. If expansion occurs in the fashion of four, evening out the conferences would require three teams to the West, and one to the East. Anyone see a problem with this? I’m looking at you, Quebec City. And even if relocation is added to the process, saying Hamilton, Ontario would feel slighted would be quite the understatement. Even if relocation does become a reality, it won’t unfold in the demand of the average NHL fan.
The Coyotes are staying put in the desert – for the foreseeable future anyway. What about the Hurricanes leaving Raleigh? Unlikely. Could there be a divorce between the Blue Jackets and Columbus? Don’t bet on it. And just because a handful of fans moan and groan about hockey in Florida, the Lightning are doing just fine in Tampa.
This leaves the Florida Panthers as the lone legitimate candidate to skip town, despite hosting the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. And with the current number of teams per conference, the Panthers relocating does nothing in favor of adding more than one team to East without spitting in the face of Quebec City.
The Florida Panthers are hosting the 2015 NHL Draft. So I guess they won't be moving to Quebec City before then. Florida in June is lovely
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) January 14, 2014
“Quebec Nordiques all the way,” said CBC’s Don Cherry last month. “It’s a no-brainer. They have an arena half built, the greatest fans and so much tradition.”
As far as mixing and matching to produce another team in Toronto, it’s a scenario that Cherry sees as unlikely.
“I don’t think they would expand by four at once. That’s a lot,” added Cherry.
It is a lot. Imagine an expansion draft for four teams. Not only would every fan of every team suffer, they’d also be forced to either get to know their younger talent sooner than they’d like, or miss out on getting to see the fruits of their development. And if that doesn’t make you scratch your head, maybe stacking teams on top of each other in the East with a vast chunk of land untapped out West will.
Call me old fashion, or just plain crazy. Another team in Toronto does absolutely nothing for me in regard to excitement. Then again, what do I know? I’m not from Toronto, nor am I a Leafs fan.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.