a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 21 April 2011

04/21/11 16.0 The Swan Song for the Yotes?

Is this the end of the Phoenix Coyotes? It's too early to tell, but this is certainly a franchise that's barely hanging on.

Still, after watching the Coyotes get swept in four games by Detroit, one can't help but feel bad for the fans who actually did embrace the team in the desert. There weren't enough of them enough of the time to keep the team viable, but what fans existed showed up for game four. Many of them embraced the white out, some were in full Coyotes regalia and a few were even sporting the ugly jerseys from the team's early days in Arizona. All looked dejected after the loss. Some were even in tears.

And why not? Canadian hockey fans can sometimes talk out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the game they love. On one hand we say that hockey would never fly in the certain parts of the U.S. and on the other hand we say that this is the best game in the world. If it's the best then it can fly anywhere, and some of the fans in Phoenix showed that. Hockey certainly doesn't have the foundation in Arizona that it has everywhere in Canada, but the game actually is the best in the world and it is good enough to make people love it, even if they aren't living in a traditional hockey market. For that reason, every Canadian hockey fan should feel just a little bit for the fans that did exist in Phoenix, who face the very real possibility of losing their team. Many of them became fans even though it wasn't an inherent part of their culture, and they should be applauded for that.

Speaking of Canadian hockey fans, the citizens of Winnipeg know all too well the pain of losing their NHL team. It's been 15 years since the Jets left town and it makes a certain kind of sense that they would ultimately return there. It's almost as if Phoenix was just tending the store while Winnipeg got all its ducks in a row. It still may not happen, but below is a breakdown of the key things to know if the Coyotes move back to Winnipeg.

The Key Players:

David Thomson:  The richest man in Canada and 17th richest in the world, Thomson is the man with the money to make it all happen. The cost of around $170 million for the troubled franchise is but a drop in a bucket for Thomson, who is chairman of the information company Thomson Reuters. He currently resides in Toronto but he is a partner with Mark Chipman in True North Sports & Entertainment, which owns Winnipeg's new arena, the MTS Centre.

Mark Chipman: Founder of True North Holdings, which built and owns Winnipeg's arena. Chipman is on the Board of Directors of Hockey Canada, and he is governor of the Manitoba Moose. Chipman was born and raised in Winnipeg.

Financial Viability:

Winnipeg's MTS Centre has a capacity of just a shade over 15,000 for hockey games. If an NHL team were to play there, it would make it the lowest capacity building in the league. However, according to ESPN, 7 of the league's teams played to crowds of less than 15,000 per night, regardless of the capacity of their buildings. Included among those teams was - of course - the Coyotes. 15,000 fans actually represents an improvement of almost 3000 per game (provided that Winnipeg sold out every game). It doesn't matter how big your arena is if you can't fill the seats - just look at Jobing.com Arena, which has more than 17,000.

CBC's Scott Oake did a rundown of the basic numbers in March and they look something like this:

With less than capacity average attendance of 14,500 fans per game and with tickets costing an average of $75, the team stands to make almost $45 million at the gate after 41 homes games. This is not including any concert revenue or potential home playoff dates, which are possible given that the Coyotes are finally a competitive team.

$45 million from the gate, plus
$19 million in broadcast revenue,
$15 million from in-arena sales,
$13 in potential revenue sharing, and
$10 million from luxury suites,
$102 million dollars in revenue

Taking into consideration that Winnipeg fans routinely go in their thousands to Manitoba Moose games, and how much that city is starving for an NHL team, it seems likely that at least 14,500 fans could be found each night. The numbers listed above are possible, which makes it a reasonable proposition financially, even if the team spent close to the cap.

As for the Moose, there is speculation that that team could move to Thunder Bay if an NHL team returned to Winnipeg. The scheduling just wouldn't work to keep both teams in town.

And, on the NHL side, the divisions would have to be changed. The Pacific Division can't lose a team and the Northwest can't have an extra one. The obvious choice would be that Colorado would leave the Northwest Division and join the Pacific, as they are the nearest team geographically to the rest of the Pacific Division. The new divisions would be:

Northwest: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota
Pacific: San Jose, Anaheim, LA, Dallas, Colorado

There's still a chance that Matthew Hulsizer could buy the team and keep them in Arizona, but that chance is getting smaller all the time. The NHL is going to have to start thinking about the schedule for next year soon, and therefore this matter must be resolved one way or another in a timely fashion.

There! If you weren't in the know, consider yourself informed.

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