ALSO ON SLAM!
Tuesday, October 12, 1999
Canucks' future in Vancouver is on thin ice
But there's a very real possibility that the next NHL team to leave Canada will be the Vancouver Canucks.
As is the case with the other three teams, it's a simple matter of economics. As part of a sporting conglomerate, the Canucks were in no danger of moving. They occasionally made dire pronouncements concerning their huge losses, but no one who really knows hockey took them seriously. It was just part of the ongoing battle between the NHL owners and players.
The team owner, Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, used the old trick of sticking the hockey team with many expenses incurred by the arena and the already profitable basketball team, a ruse that may not be unfamiliar to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Orca Bay was a lucrative entity. But a couple of weeks ago, it sold the Vancouver Grizzlies to Bill Laurie, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune and the owner of a couple of other sports entities -- the St. Louis Blues and the building in which they play, the Kiel Center.
It now seems to be only a matter of time until the NBA Grizzlies are moved to St. Louis. After all, a new building with only one tenant is almost sure to lose money, as was the case in St. Louis where the parent company was $96 million in debt.
If Laurie has a hockey team, a basketball team and a building, why would he not amalgamate the three?
He spent $150 million US to buy the Grizzlies and $100 million for the Blues. He also assumed the $96-million debt. After spending $346 million, the $50 million transfer fee to move the Grizzlies to St. Louis would be hardly noticeable.
That's the economics from the St. Louis side. Now let's look at it from the Vancouver side.
Bill McCaw, the owner of Orca Bay, has been sounding out potential buyers for the Canucks for more than a year. He now says the team is off the market. Believe him at your peril.
He is disappointed tremendously by the results of his forays into sports and feels that the people he employed to run the teams, especially the hockey team, let him down badly and embarrassed him in the business community.
Meanwhile, a mere 500 kilometres away in Portland, Ore., lives Paul Allen, billionaire computer magnate. When the NHL undertook its latest expansion, Allen was not interested in having a team that conceivably could draw fans from his NBA team, the Trail Blazers.
But recently, Allen has decided that he wants to set up a regional sports TV network, similar to those in Dallas, New York and Anaheim.
All of a sudden, the Canucks have a potential buyer who could acquire the team and hardly see a change in his bank balance. And since the NHL has no more expansion plans, this could be a golden opportunity that may not arise again for some time.
From the point of view of most NHL governors, this would be an ideal turn of events. One less Canadian market. One more U.S. market. And they wouldn't even have to juggle the divisional lineups.
It's true that Orca Bay would be left with a virtually useless building, but the initial deal was so one-sided that the company still would recognize an overall profit.
All of which makes the Canucks a highly endangered species.