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.
And why not? The geography worked for a Western Conference team, with immediate rivals. The Sprint Center was, at the time, a state-of-the-art facility managed by NHL darlings AEG. Plus, exhibition games in KC received high marks from those involved.
Hence, Kansas City was used as a viable relocation bargaining chip by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Charles Wang and the New York Islanders during negotiations with their municipalities.
But as the NHL formally begins its expansion process Monday, Kansas City isn’t one of the destinations prominently listed. According to the Kansas City Star, that’s because none of the potential owners of a KC NHL team are interested in this round of expansion:
Lamar Hunt Jr., who owns the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks, a minor-league hockey team that plays in Independence, called the NHL’s $500 million price tag for an expansion franchise “a ridiculously big fee,” and said that he is not aware of anyone in Kansas City who will make a push for a team.
“No, it’s not on my radar,” he said. “It’s not on this team’s radar, and it’s not on my radar.”
Cliff Illig, a billionaire and part of the ownership group of Sporting Kansas City, is also not involved with a bid for Kansas City, and does not know of anyone who is.
“You could say that,” he said. “That’s certainly the truth.”
Conversations with a few others around town indicate a consensus, that there is no real momentum from local groups to woo the NHL for an expansion franchise.
The fact is that Kansas City has one of the two things the NHL needs in an expansion city: a building. That actually puts it ahead of a place like Seattle. But Seattle has ownership groups(s) that are going to formally apply for an expansion team and Kansas City doesn’t.
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.
The article also notes that Kansas City is the No. 31 TV market in the U.S. and “it takes a lot of imagination to see the nation’s No. 31 market producing enough local TV money to make it work.” 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.
The point here is that Kansas City is very much a market the NHL would and should be interested in, including the fact that, like in Vegas, they would be “first in” with a pro franchise. (If they land in Seattle, it’s just a matter of time before the NBA doubles-up that market.) There are current demographic challenges, but it’s not hard to believe there’s a lot of potential for stable growth there.
The problem, alas, is that there have been more NHL owners using Kansas City as a negotiating ploy than there have been Kansas City owners looking to buy a team and relocate it. And with a $500 million expansion fee, it doesn’t appear anyone’s stepping up to pay that either.
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