Business Of Hockey: The Inherent Disadvantage Of Large Market Teams


 When it comes to the business of hockey, large market teams bring in the money. However, that success comes at a price 

There is an inherent disadvantage to big market / Canadian teams in the NHL. There’s something you don’t really think about every day. When you picture large crowds and near-suffocating media coverage, it’s only natural to think of successful franchises. And while that may be the case if you are looking at things from a business / butts-in-seats standpoint, it isn’t often reflected in the standings.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers are all teams that have struggled over the last 20 years (varying degrees of struggle: Toronto and Edmonton have been terrible, New York and Philadelphia are annual contenders, but have not won the Stanley Cup – despite supposedly having the personnel to do so) – but remain as some of the most popular and most talked about teams in the NHL.

The problem lies with the fact that ownership has zero motivation to improve. You can bet that the Arizona Coyotes and the Carolina Hurricanes are not on the 10-year rebuild plan. They simply cannot afford to have empty arenas for that long (well, the Coyotes have had an empty arena for over a decade, but that explains the constant ownership changes). They need to get better quick and get people back to games. Some will criticize fans in those cities for being fair-weather, but it is the reality in emerging hockey markets.

In Toronto and Edmonton, both teams have been terrible and yet, fans still show up. They may be frustrated and throw jerseys, but they still pay an obnoxious amount of money to see a team that is no close to winning a Cup than it was five years ago. If the frustration finally gets the best of them and they do vow to never show up / cancel their season ticket plan, there is a century-long waiting list of people ready to shell out more cash to replace them. Besides having an ounce of self-respect and the drive to compete – there is really no motivation for Leafs or Oilers ownership to do better. Their struggles on the ice will never hurt them in the wallet.

The same goes for the perennial almost-champion Rangers and Flyers. These teams may not be as terrible as the Maple Leafs and Oilers, but due to their location, the arena will always be filled. Neither team’s ownership has been afraid to spend a boatload of cash over the years, but even if the Rangers go another 20 years without winning a Stanley Cup, Madison Square Garden will always be filled every night. Fans may boo, criticize management, etc. but they will still show up.

Now I understand you can’t just tell people to stop showing up to games in Toronto or Edmonton – this is more of an observation and an inherent disadvantage to playing in a large market. A lot of times we like to focus on the disadvantages inherent to the have-nots of the NHL like Arizona, Florida, and Carolina – but there is also a price to pay for popularity.

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