While other municipalities debate about how to fund new arena projects, Kansas City remains in the NHL expansion/relocation conversation because they already have a viable one: Sprint Center.
The 18,000-seat barn (with a smaller capacity for hockey) is managed by Los Angeles Kings owners AEG and will host yet another NHL preseason game on Sept. 27 between the Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins; and, as is tradition, we'll hear plenty about the attendance for that game with regard to Kansas City's viability as an NHL market. (Whether or not that's a fair gauge.)
NHL Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille is the president of business operations for the Kings, and served as the unofficially sanctioned AEG sparring partner for the Kansas City Star this week in an interview with writer Randy Covitz.
Lucky Luc handled some fastballs in the Q&A, including:
Q. Don't you think Kansas City is getting tired of being used by other franchises to get better arena deals for themselves?
A. "I don't think you're being used. You have the best option. Look at North America. Is there another arena that is better than (the Sprint Center)? A city better than this? You have the best options. It's really hard to move a team. The (New York) Islanders still have to figure out to do their deal … their lease is up in 2015. If that doesn't happen, what city will take the burden to build a new arena and take the risks they did here? There's a reason every concert wants to come here."
They do, which brings us to an interesting twist in the NHL/Kansas City flirtation: Does the Sprint Center actually need an NHL team anymore?
From the KC Star interview with Robitaille:
Q. Do you think AEG even wants a team in this building, which has been so successful bringing in concerts, family shows and college sports?
A. "There is no doubt AEG wants a team coming in here. It makes sense. From a business perspective, you always want a team to represent the city … it's a beautiful building."
Q. Why tie up an arena with 50 dates and have to give away the store to bring in a team at the expense of more profitable events?
A. "Short-term, they keep having concerts … but any building always needs a main tenant. AEG is a company that thinks long term and understands if there is an opportunity, whether it would be NBA or NHL, to get a team."
Fact is that Sprint Center hardly sits vacant without 41 NHL home games on its schedule. From AEG in July 2010:
According to Pollstar Magazine's 2010 Mid-Year Report, Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. has been recognized as America's third busiest arena. The leading concert trade publication, which hits newsstands this week, ranks Sprint Center at No. 6 among worldwide venues.
Sprint Center, Kansas City's award winning arena, was one of three US concert venues listed among the Top 100 Worldwide Arenas -- trailing venues in New York City and Atlanta. Pollstar utilizes an extensive database to collect box office reports from nearly 100 percent of the world's top-level artists, promoters and venues during the 2010 calendar year. The result is a series of eagerly anticipated rankings and industry outlook that are included in the magazine's popular mid-year issue.
So the arena is successful even without a pro sports tenant … but pro sports tenants do produce significant amounts through other revenue streams. (Seat licenses, suite sales, etc.) Concerts and circuses are great; sold out dates with rabid sports fans are even better.
Which brings us back to the essential question: Can Kansas City support an NHL team?
Ben Palosaari at The Pitch addressed that earlier this month when the New York Islanders' lost that vote on a $400 million bond:
Islanders owner Charles Wang has said even though voters rejected the borrowing idea, he still wants to keep the team in Long Island. And even if he's lying, as team owners are known to do, he could just move the team to Brooklyn and hang on to fat New York TV revenue. It will be relatively painless for both the team and the fans.
There are plenty of other bigger and Canadian (cough, Quebec City, cough) cities dying for a hockey team. Hell, in Houston, another team getting some discussion, a minor league team, plays in a 17,800-seat arena. That's bigger than the Sprint Center's hockey capacity. And there's no proof that Kansas City is obsessive enough about hockey to make an NHL team successful. Sure, the Mavericks averaged 5,406 fans in their 6,000-seat arena last year over 33 games. That's impressive, but it's not 17,000 showing up to 41 dates a year for a team that is a long way from contending.
In summary: Kansas City has the building. They may not have the fans. And as for owners, as Robitaille noted, "We need to find a couple people from Kansas City that are interested in buying a team and hopefully get the chance to move them here."
But most of all, it's not Quebec City, who will be getting a team in the next several years even if they don't currently have anything as pretty as Sprint Center on its soil.
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