Silly Season

by Ryan

In the midst of one of the most exciting playoff series in some time, some paperwork in Phoenix is stealing all the headlines for the NHL.

There has been plenty of excellent coverage of the situation, including the always-great James Mirtle, but I think Sabres fans should be looking at this situation with serious interest. If Hamilton really is on the radar, the Sabres just may be the team most impacted by a potential move.

If you take a quick look around the blogosphere, the most common response is worry. I think that’s understandable, especially given what Sabres fans recently endured when it comes to finances. We are not quick to forget just how close we were to losing our own team, and an intrusion on the Buffalo “market” should most certainly be viewed as a threat.

night-bridge-wallpaperBut just how much of the Sabres’ revenue comes from Southern Ontario? Well, according to Larry Quinn it’s around 20 percent. That’s a pretty large number, but there’s no telling just how much of that 20 percent is coming from Leafs fans and Platinum Pricing, is there? The numbers will never be very specific, but it’s clear that Hamilton and Southern Ontario matters to the Sabres.

A move into Hamilton or Southern Ontario will have an impact on two teams, but let’s not kid ourselves by thinking the Maple Leafs will be significantly hurt by this. It was pointed out on USRT that, if anything, Toronto will benefit from another rival. There’s no way ticket prices or demand goes down in Toronto, and as the most valuable franchise in the league they won’t be hurting if Balsillie gets his way.

However, the Sabres are far from the most valuable team in the league. Despite a certifiable hockey renaissance in the city of Buffalo, the Sabres are a middle of the road franchise in the big picture. This is a small market with a sizable group of die hard fans, but a small market nonetheless. As we all know, small markets are always vulnerable.

I think people have to realize that what has happened here in the last few seasons is not the status quo. In time the team will become less popular and slip back to the median most fans are familiar with. With that slide revenues will decrease and the team will need its traditional sources of income. We’ve already seen some empty seats this year, and if team performance doesn’t change dramatically we will only see more next year.

silly-stringIf that 20 percent is real, that will be an important source of revenue. Whether we like it or not, those Leafs jerseys and lines at the Peace Bridge after the game mean dollar signs for this franchise no matter how bad the Sabres are. It’s a constant the team is beginning to rely on, and they’ve taken advantage of it recently with their pricing system. That goes away if Hamilton gets their Blackberries, and that’s the concern.

Of course, we already know this. What we don’t know is what Bettman and the NHL has in mind with Phoenix. It’s obvious that the league doesn’t want Balsillie to own a team, and that’s why his recent actions have been so aggressive. The good news is that it looks like the NHL will fight his bid to the end, but that doesn’t mean he’s done.

What it comes down to is making the Coyotes franchise profitable. Moving to Hamilton would certainly do that, but the league may not want to reduce another team’s value in the process. That’s what will keep this from happening just as much as the “Southern plan” the NHL has stuck with for the past decade.

So as Sabres fans, how worried about this are you?

4 Comments

  1. I think this could actually work out for the Sabres with them being able to charge the Canadians for both the maple leafs games and the Hamilton games. Buffalo may posture a bit about the issue, but mostly just to make sure Balsillie cuts them a check to move into the market…

  2. DJ

    one less Canadian who will try to buy the Bills and move them North if he gets the Coyotes

  3. Couple thoughts:

    – You alluded to it, but I think you cast your net too narrow. I wonder how much of the 20% comes not only from Leafs fans paying for three platinum games, but from Habs and Sens fans six games a year, plus general “Canada” fans that come for the three western teams. In a good year the Sabres can host 12 Canadian teams, nearly 30% of their home schedule. Add in another Canadian team (one that I have to imagine would be in our division) and you’re now talking up to 15 games, 36.5% (assuming we wouldn’t lose the Habs or Sens from our division). Of the “20%”, lets say that games against actual Canadian teams makes up half of that, and that won’t change.

    – Now we have to think about how the gate will be affected for American-opponent games. The answer to that I think depends greatly on where exactly the Blackberries end up. If they become the “Second Toronto team” and have an arena somewhere near Etobicoke/Brampton, then I think the damage to the Sabres is minimal. If they end up in Hamilton then I think it gets a bit worse. St. Catharines is ~35 miles from both Copps Coliseum and The Aud, so the lack of a bridge crossing gives the nod to Hamilton. If there is something to be genuinely worried about, it’s this.

    – Another factor is what, if any, payment the Sabres would receive from Balsillie for having their territory breached. If they can count on a fat cheque every year, then that may nearly defray all of the money lost on those American-opponent home games. If that’s the case then the question is how much non-ticket money will be lost (merchandise/parking/etc.)

    – Finally I have to comment on the “small market” status of the Sabres. Yes, they’re a smaller market team. However (and I hate to say this, but,) I trust that Bettman will have the Sabres’ best interest in mind during this matter, as he will want to protect this market. Why? Television numbers. I think his main goal is still to grow the TV audience, and WNY makes up a large chunk of those numbers. As long as the Sabres have an owner I think they’re safe.

  4. mozeltofff

    for pete’s sake its SABERS not SABRES!!! get it right learn to spell!