If you build it, will the NHL come?
And if the NHL did, would the Toronto Maple Leafs let them?
In a week in which potential suitors Providence Equity Partner kicked the tires on the potential sale of The Teacher’s 79.5 per cent stake in MLSE valued at $1.8 billion, a potential new wrinkle has emerged on the Toronto sports landscape.
A group calling itself GTA sports and entertainment unveiled a plan to build a 19,500-seat arena in Markham priced at $300- million dollars. The arena proposal is to be part of a mega sports-entertainment complex including a mall and estimated to cost about $1 billion.
Oh, and The Teachers, unfulfilled in its search to find a willing sucker with deep enough pockets to purchase their MLSE shares, have taken down the For Sale sign for now.
But back to the Markham arena.
Graeme Roustan, who heads up GTA sports and is also chairman of hockey equipment maker Bauer, says the plan to build the arena is not contingent on getting an NHL team in Markham. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told them to go ahead and build it but don’t expect us to come calling.
Roustan is playing the script perfectly as good corporate citizen following the I-want-to check what-the-guys-in-New-York-think-first approach to NHL ownership.
“Absolutely not,” he said in a Globe and Mail report this week. “I have no expectations of having a professional sports franchise as a tenant in this building.”
Whew! That must be a big relief to the suits at MLSE who’d rather stick bamboo shoots under their buffed fingernails than welcome another NHL franchise on their doorstep. They’ve forever insisted they have veto rights of any team setting up shop within a 50-mile radius – it says so in the NHL constitution, according to them. The NHL meanwhile, while not saying much, hints that this rule may be subject to interpretation. You don’t have to read too much into all this to know that the spectre of another team coming to Markham would likely result in one nasty, expensive legal fight. Oh goody, more money for those poor corporate lawyers.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.
So are we to believe that Roustan, who made a bid to buy the Montreal Canadiens in 2009, really isn’t interested in bringing an NHL team to Markham? If not, then how does he plan to make any money off this gargantuan investment?
Concerts. And events. Lots of them. He says its realistic to book about 100 events annually and estimates that 75-80 nights filling this new palace will turn a profit. If that’s the case, why not build a proper concert hall to get the best possible experience rather than an all-purpose facility?
Methinks Mr. Roustan is being just a little disingenuous about his denials of not coveting an NHL franchise. Or naive. Or possibly delusional. We can’t say for sure.
Without this scheme being underwritten by a major tenant to suck up 50 or so additional nights a year generating mucho dollars, it has no legs. Filling that lean schedule and major financial void sounds to me an awful lot of what an NHL team would bring. What other entity out there could attract so many people on a regular basis? Arena football? A second AHL team? Please.
Broken down further, even the primary assumption of the plan in getting 19,000+ for 80 concerts and events a year seems a stretch. After a handful, maybe 5-10 big time acts like U2 or Kanye West or some such, the draw drops off dramatically. And that’s competing with the ACC, Molson Amphitheatre, Roy Thompson Hall and others for those acts. Besides, it’s in Markham. Will the young concert-going demographic shell out big bucks and make the 40-kilometre trek there and back?
From what I read, most under-30s have enough trouble finding paid employment these days and for the foreseeable future. It’s a bit of stretch to think they’d attend expensive concerts held far away in droves.
Better think this whole thing through is what I think.
On Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, Roustan was evasive when questioned about this. Granted, he has to play nicey-nice with the NHL to avoid another Jim Balsillie bull-in-a-China-shop screw-up. But anyone listening had to be a tad skeptical about how this thing will fly without an NHL team.
Will there ever come a time where the Toronto Maple Leafs and Somebody Else’s Team could peacefully co-exist within so-called Leaf territory? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. But let’s see where it all stands two years hence when – if? – the project would be nearing completion. The picture could look much different then.