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article imageCanada could support nine National Hockey League teams

By John Duarte     Feb 9, 2012 in Sports
Ottawa - The future of the National Hockey League in Canada could easily include another two franchises, according to a study released on Thursday.
The Conference Board of Canada's 12th analysis of the professional sports market shows that Québec City and Hamilton “have the minimum market conditions to support National Hockey League (NHL) franchises.”
"Future Hockey Day in Canada celebrations could include up to four all-Canadian games if an eighth or even ninth city acquires an NHL franchise," said Mario Lefebvre, director of the Centre for Municipal Studies. "However, nine has to be considered the upper limit.”
The findings presented at the How Many NHL Franchises Could Canada Sustain? briefing showed that up to nine NHL franchises could thrive in Canadian cities like Québec City and Hamilton along with the existing teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg. The briefing was the 12th in the Conference Board's series Playing in the Big Leagues. The conference board assessed Canadian cities using various league and franchise-specific factors as well as market conditions required to maintain a professional sports franchise. Factors examined included population, market wealth and corporate presence.
The viability of smaller markets such as Winnipeg, Québec City and Hamilton are particularly affected if franchises in larger cities can outspend them for players. The conference board cited, however, the prospects for an NHL franchise are better for small-market cities since the current salary cap took effect in 2005.
"Let's also be clear that Winnipeg, Hamilton and Québec City have less of a margin for error than teams in larger Canadian or U.S. cities,” Lefebvre added. “These franchises can be successful as long as they have dedicated owners who are invested for the long term, manage their business and markets carefully, and the Canadian dollar remains a strong currency."
One of the key variables in netting a professional sports franchise is a city having modern stadiums or arenas. In the case of hockey, Québec City has a business plan for a new arena at an estimated cost of $400 million. Hamilton already has a building that provides an initial home for an NHL franchise, but Copps Coliseum would have to undergo renovations and upgrades to meet standards evolving for professional arenas. It should be noted, however, that a franchise in Hamilton would have to address the territorial claims by current NHL teams in Toronto and Buffalo.
The Conference Board study also looked at the viability of a second NHL team surviving in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. According to the study, the risk of market saturation for both fans and corporate supporters, combined with territorial issues with existing teams might create a situation that would place sizable obstacles in the path of multiple teams in these cities.
The Playing in the Big Leagues series will next look at what the Canadian professional sport scene could look like in 2030.
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