NHL on Thin Ice?

I find this article quite interesting, and we’ll finally be able to see how good Commissioner Gary Bettman is.http://www.nypost.com/business/72835.htm

By TIM ARANGO
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April 7, 2003 —

The finances of the National Hockey League are in such tatters that a full one-third of the league’s teams are for sale, The Post has learned.

At least 10 of the league’s 30 franchises are on the block – a symptom, critics say, of the league’s troubled times, which have been brought on by overexpansion and an uncertain labor situation.

Some of the planned sales have been announced, but other teams have been quietly put on the block, sources familiar with the matter say.

The teams include the Phoenix Coyotes, which recently hired the New York investment bank Allen & Co.; the Tampa Bay Lightning; and the Calgary Flames in Canada.

The Coyotes’ ownership says it hired Allen & Co. to drum up new investors to fund a new stadium, but sources say the team is also being shopped around.

Spokespersons for the teams in Calgary, Phoenix and Tampa Bay denied that their squads are being actively shopped.

The number of hockey teams available “is unprecedented,” said one sports-industry veteran.

Added John Mansell, a sports analyst at Peter Kagen Associates, “That’s quite a few teams, there’s no question about it. I can’t recall that many for sale at any time” in any sport.

For sure, some teams have been beset by individual problems. The New Jersey Devils, for example, have been unable to secure a new arena in Newark – a move that is seen as key to the team’s long-term financial success.

As a result, The Post recently reported, Puck Holdings Ltd., an affiliate of YankeeNets, is trying to unload the Devils.

Another New York team, the Buffalo Sabres, was part of bankrupt cable giant Adelphia and is close to being sold to Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano for roughly $90 million.

Some say the dire situation in the NHL stems from the league’s rapid expansion during the 1990s. Nine teams were added to the league during that time. Four of those teams – Anaheim, Atlanta, Ottawa and Tampa Bay – are now for sale.

Hampering the ability of current owners to sell their teams is uncertainty over future labor negotiations. Next summer, the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and management expires, and most NHL observers predict a costly lockout.

Team owners blame rising player salaries for the league’s financial difficulties, and they will probably seek to put a clamp on salaries.

The players association, of course, will probably resist.

“Most teams are losing money, and they are looking out for a work stoppage next year,” sports analyst Mansell said.

To make matters worse, the NHL’s television contract with Disney-owned networks ABC and ESPN expires next year, and many expect the league to get less from any subsequent contract than the $120 million a year it gets now.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Mansell said. A team’s on-ice performance often has little do with a franchise’s financial state. For example, the Ottawa Senators are the Northeast Division champion and boast the league’s best record – yet the team has piled on $225 million in debt and was forced to file for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.