Québec City and Hamilton have the minimum market conditions to support National Hockey League (NHL) franchises – which would bring the total number of Canadian cities that have or could support NHL teams to nine – according to The Conference Board of Canada’s 12th analysis of the professional sports market.
Ottawa, February 9, 2012 – Québec City and Hamilton have the minimum market conditions to support National Hockey League (NHL) franchises – which would bring the total number of Canadian cities that have or could support NHL teams to nine – according to The Conference Board of Canada’s 12th analysis of the professional sports market.
“Future Hockey Day in Canada celebrations could include up to four all-Canadian matchups if an eighth or even ninth city acquires an NHL franchise,” said Mario Lefebvre, Director, Centre for Municipal Studies. “However, nine has to be considered the upper limit.
“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. 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.”
This briefing, How Many NHL Franchises Could Canada Sustain?, is 12th in the Conference Board’s series Playing in the Big Leagues. It assesses the NHL prospects for Canadian cities using league and franchise-specific factors, as well as the four market pillars required for a professional sport franchise, as developed in earlier briefing in this series.
- Population Size: Prior to the 2011-12 season, the six existing Canadian NHL franchises had more than one million people in their Census Metropolitan Area (CMA). The return of the Jets to Winnipeg brought a franchise into a CMA of about 750,000 people, which the Conference Board considers the minimum threshold for a viable NHL team. This population requirement makes Hamilton and Quebec City the only potential additional NHL markets in Canada, at least according to this pillar.
- Market Wealth: This pillar has grown in importance, given the rapid rise in ticket prices for professional sport events. In per capita income, Winnipeg ranked 14th among Canada`s 27 largest CMAs in 2010, Québec City ranked 10th in 2010 and Hamilton ranked 18th. While these three markets are far from the wealthiest in Canada, Hamilton’s per capita income surpassed that of Montréal. Moreover, Winnipeg and Quebec City ranked ahead of both Vancouver and Montreal in per capita income.
- Corporate Presence – In 2009, Quebec City was home to 17 of Canada’s 800 largest corporations and Hamilton had only 10. However, these numbers are similar to the corporate presence in Winnipeg (30 corporate head offices) Edmonton (26) and Ottawa (19). The Conference Board concludes that possessing relatively few head offices does not necessarily disqualify Québec City or Hamilton as potential markets - especially if corporate giants from nearby cities (such as Montreal in the case of Quebec City, or Toronto in the case of Hamilton) become involved in the franchise.
- A Level Playing Field - The playing field has rarely been more level for Canadian franchises playing in North American professional sport leagues. The Canadian dollar is more or less at parity with the U.S. greenback and the Conference Board expects that the loonie will remain in this range for the foreseeable future. Federal and provincial governments have lowered tax rates in recent years, reducing the tax spread with the United States – welcome news for Canadian franchises.
League factors can also determine whether a franchise is viable. Smaller markets such as Winnipeg, Quebec City and Hamilton are particularly affected if franchises in larger cities can outspend them for players. However, the NHL is a much more welcoming circuit for smaller markets since the current salary cap took effect in 2005.
At the franchise-level, modern playing facilities are a key variable. Quebec City has a business plan for a new arena at an estimated cost of $400 million. Hamilton has an existing building that provides an initial home for an NHL franchise, but Copps Coliseum would likely need considerable renovation and upgrading to meet the evolving standard of professional arenas.
The Conference Board’s conclusion is therefore that Hamilton and Quebec City have to be viewed as the only two additional potential markets right now in Canada when it comes to supporting NHL teams. The prospect of additional teams in Canada’s largest cities has been circulated among sports business commentators, but the Conference Board does not view a second franchise as feasible in any of Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto. Risk of market saturation for both fans and corporate supporters, combined with territorial issues with existing teams, would be difficult hurdles for a second team in these cities to overcome. It should also be noted that any proposed Hamilton franchise would have to address the territorial claims of nearby NHL teams in Toronto and Buffalo.
In the next edition of the Playing in the Big Leagues series, the Conference Board will use the full analytical foundation it has developed over the past year to forecast what the Canadian professional sport scene could look like in 2030.