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.
But 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.
If 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?