Monday, July 6, 2015

Kansas City Still Not Viable for NHL Expansion, But Still Not for Dumb Reasons

Kansas City is too small for hockey? Is that a fat joke?


I know, it sounds crazy.  But it's true, right there, on Sam Mellinger's blog.  And the story was only released about a week and a half after Gary Bettman's press conference announcing a new round of NHL expansion.  We're making progress here, folks.  Hockey town Kansas City, here we come!

Of course, there are problems with the logic in the article, so your resident "indignant" Kansas City hockey blog snaps into action!  But we will get to that in a moment.
Not too long ago, the faithful in Kansas City would get downright indignant if you didn’t include their fair city when discussing expansion and relocation options in the NHL. 
This is how Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo's Puck Daddy describes us in his Monday article presenting his views to Sam Mellinger's column in the Star from this weekend, linking to our blog post from three years ago.  Though it's comforting to know Wysh has us in his iCloud contacts, I'm not sure he understood my point from then.*

Now, like then, the issue was not that Kansas City was not being mentioned in relocation and/or expansion.  It was how other cities -- specifically Seattle -- were being mentioned as foregone conclusions to host an NHL team for many of the same reasons Kansas City was always mentioned (possible arena, metro area, rich people(?), etc.).  The message then -- again, as it is now -- is do not get your hopes up.  The only difference between then and now is the $500 million price tag on expansion.  (btw, still totally taking donations if you have any extra money you want to give to some random on the internet. need about...$500 million more...).

Wysh is right on many accounts that Mellinger gets wrong.  Though we have already covered some of these issues, here are a few selections.

Mellinger writes:
In a parallel universe, Kansas City might already have a team. The NBA’s Thunder could be in Kansas City, if things lined up better. Same with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers.

Read more here:
Tell us more about this parallel universe (*guy poking out from behind wall* "neither of those teams would move here").
The NHL’s economic model also works against Kansas City. The league’s revenue is tightly centered around local TV contracts, even more than Major League Baseball, and it takes a lot of imagination to see the nation’s No. 31 market producing enough local TV money to make it work. That’s particularly true in a place without much hockey culture.

Read more here:
Wysh does well to debunk this myth, which Mellinger backs up with an economics professor who apparently does not watch a lot of hockey.  From Wysh:
Which might make sense if No. 32 wasn’t Columbus, and Las Vegas wasn’t No. 41 and Buffalo wasn’t No. 52, which is amazing considering that Sabres’ market is one of the League’s biggest drivers of national ratings.
Not a good sign when Buffalo is debunking your logic.  Additionally, if the NHL relies on local markets to drive revenue and popularity, as Mellinger's article states, then he would need to explain why Fox Sports Kansas City had the "best TV rating for an MLB team on a regional sports network since 2002" this past April in the same market that stuffed the ballot for a glorified exhibition game that no one cared about until eight Royals were slated to start it.  Or one of the most popular and influential soccer markets in the United States.  Of course, this city could not sustain that for other sports, as well, could it?

Mellinger continues:
With the Royals, Chiefs, Sporting KC, NASCAR and major interest in college sports, Kansas City is already an overextended sports market. In the Business Journals’ 2015 report, Kansas City’s total personal income was calculated as $86 billion short of what’s generally required to support its existing sports franchises. Specific to the NHL, Kansas City scored a zero on a scale up to 100 that ranked potential markets.

Read more here:
There used to be a map (lost, as of this posting, of course) that listed the season ticket holders for the Chiefs.  Every state but two was represented, thus there were STHs from every state but two.  The Chiefs are not "Kansas City's" team.  The Chiefs are a regional team, for people from Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, etc.  And eight times per year all of those people from the Midwest and beyond attend Chiefs games.  Same with NASCAR.  The closest major tracks are Chicago and North Texas, making Kansas Speedway the only game in the region.  Kansas Citians are not the only people to attend these events.  The reason KC's income is $86 billion short of what's generally required to support its existing sports franchises is because Kansas Citians are not the only segment of the population to attend these events in the city, and, perhaps, Kansas Citians just prefer to spend their money on sporting events.  Also, the overextended sports and entertainment dollar argument is old, and does not show a true representation of the market.  For reference, from that quoted Business Journal report, similar-sized cities like Minneapolis, Nashville, and Milwaukee have substantial to moderate deficits, like KC.  While Chicago and Dallas, large cities with multiple franchises and major colleges nearby, have more room for growth.  Medium-sized metro areas cannot make enough for that list to support one or two major sports franchises.  It can explain why it takes time for a team and sport to build its popularity here, like soccer and KC Wizards/Sporting KC.  Wysh speaks further on this point, focusing on the youth level:
Don’t put too much stock into things like youth hockey numbers, which the KC Star does. Having an NHL team in town mints new hockey fans, and the fan infrastructure will grow.
Yes, people are more willing to sink money into the youth sports and pro franchises if they are established, but it's not a simple chicken-or-the-egg argument.  The reason why what Wysh says makes is because what Mellinger says -- "the metro area has a thousand youth skaters and four sheets of ice, two of which are open year-round. Generally speaking, to develop a culture that would support an NHL team, those numbers would need to double, at least" -- is arbitrary and not supported with any other recent examples.  What tells us youth sports need to reach a certain number?  That did not happen in Nashville.  It did not happen in Phoenix.  It did not happen in the Miami area or Tampa area.  Maybe not the best examples, but why would those numbers have to double, when the number of rinks and youth players can grow along with the organization?

Mellinger also brings up attendance issues to prove that Kansas City's lack of NHL-readiness, which, we argue, actually refutes his point.  
The Mavericks averaged 5,317 fans over 36 home dates last year, while NHL teams averaged 17,587 over 41.

Read more here:

Read more here:
The Mavericks filled their arena to 92% capacity every night in a "AA" hockey league, which was actually more than about half of AHL teams.  The Mavericks have sustained this average for years, which makes this less an indictment on KC hockey fans and more of an example of how people have flocked to IEC specifically for hockey.  That is pretty damn good for plopping an arena and hockey team down in a part of the city -- 15-20 minutes away from downtown -- that did not have a history of ice rinks before the Mavs.

Despite its flaws, Mellinger's article does get to the main point of the "hockey interested groups," though we would not call these groups "NHL interested."  His article turns into a great evaluation of Lamar Hunt Jr.'s present and expected future as owner of the Mavericks.  Mellinger tells us a lot about Hunt's vision -- Hunt seems personable with the media, so hopefully we can expect more about that in the future.

Overall, we agree with Wysh's main takeaway about Kansas City NHL expansion (you hear that Wysh, WE AGREE!!!): that Kansas City is a town with a lot of potential, albeit a lot of questions.  And, as Mellinger says, the timing is not right for Kansas City as an NHL city.  This is all true.  Bottom line, the $500 million expansion fee is not worth the price for an owner to watch the slow, agonizing growth of the sport in the city.  But not just in this city.  We will soon see if that is the case for cities like Las Vegas or Seattle too.

(* -- Giving Wysh the benefit of the doubt and assuming he doesn't wake up every morning thinking about that time a loser KC hockey blog critiqued him.  Because he could have chosen any number of blog posts to attempt to get in the last word.  Three years later.)

1 comment:

  1. My favorite part of Mellinger's post is where he holds up the Mavs' attendance numbers to the average NHL attendance numbers like there isn't a 3x difference in capacity at IEC (5,800) vs the average NHL arena capacity (~18,300).