Buffalo: Who Gives a Puck?

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The strange, twisted economics of pro sports have brought crisis to the shores of Lake Erie. The National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres are in danger of filing for bankruptcy. If hockey can't survive in a land that is literally frozen half the year, something is very wrong.

Predictably, public money is the linchpin of a deal that would bring new, financially sound owners into the picture. The NHL adopted a common extortionary position by calling in local officials to tell them if they don't want the franchise, just say so. Nope, no strong arm there.

The issue is now in full spin, with a $25 million "investment" in an arena all of seven-years-old being portrayed as a great deal for the community. But the telling bottomline is that these fixes are are intended to ramp up the building's non-hockey revenue to cover hockey-side losses.

This means that now and for the foreseeable future, pro hockey can't make money in Buffalo. That simply defies belief.

NEXT: Henry Who?

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  1. “If hockey can’t survive in a land that is literally frozen half the year, something is very wrong.”

    Professional hockey surely cannot survive in a city that has experienced a steady decline over the last half century–losing more than half its population, most of its job base, and any lasting reason to live there. I lived there for eight years and witnessed much of the decline myself. All of the small cities in upstate New York have experienced a severe economic decline that have rendered the region unable to compete against the better weather and tax policies of the south and southwest.

  2. Here in Minnesota, we went through a similar episode about 10 years ago, when the Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars. Also, the Twins and Vikings –both owned by billionares– are begging for hand outs from the public trough.

    Minnesota’s answer so far is “Let ’em go!” In time, the Leagues will come back hat in hand with a more reasonably priced expansion team, and new team loyalties can develop.

    This was exemplified recently when the (ex-Minneapolis) Lakers got trounced by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

  3. If the Sabres can’t make a go of it in Buffalo, I wouldn’t mind seeing the franchise disappear altogether. The NHL, like nearly every other professional sports league, has far too many teams. Many of the expansion teams of the last 10-15 years (Tampa Bay, Nashville, Anaheim) have struggled in mediocrity, and the general dilution of talent not only has lowered the quality of gameplay, (really, there should be more than one 50-goal scorer in the league) but has also put the squeeze on the traditionally excellent, but small-market, Canadian teams.

  4. There are two other dynamics at play here:

    1. Many of the Sabres’ problems are self-inflicted, due to the well-publicized corruption of their former owner, John Rigas, and Rigas’ corporation, Adelphia Communications.

    2. The NHL is gearing up for a massive bargaining war with the Players’ Association, one that will likely shut down play next season. The poor-mouthing by Major League Baseball’s owners and commissioner will likely pale in comparison to what you will hear from Gary Bettman and hockey’s owners. The Sabres’ situation will likely be used a prima facie evidence of a need to change the current system. A rough analogy would be comparing the Sabres to the Montreal Expos.

  5. If there is a shutdown in 2004, the league will hemmorage fans that have been sitting on the fence the last few years.

    Buildings are not selling out as often, a few teams are even 5-6000 people short of a sellout on a regular basis.

    Even with great mgmt, Buffalo would not have the revenue of one of the larger teams. The could have been a breakeven team or better [if they went a couple of rounds deep in the playoffs].

    The NHL needs a salary cap and revunue sharing in order for the smaller markets to survive.

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