Thursday, December 21, 2006


Ideas and Words Matter dept.

I feel like I should have a take on the whole Penguins business, but I'm having a tough time getting past the absolute absurdity of the thing as a whole to get into details.
"We want the Penguins to stay here in Pittsburgh. This is a great market; there are great hockey fans. We’d like nothing better than for the Penguins to have a new arena on the right economic terms so we don’t have to worry about the long-term viability of this franchise." - Gary Bettman

I'm not interested in picking on Bettman's role in this shmozzle, but what can someone who respects the meaning of words make of this statement?

If Hooters said that Pittsburgh was a "great market" for beer and chicken wings, but that the only way they could open a restaurant there was if someone else paid for it to be built, what would you think? To be polite about it, you'd think that you and Hooters had different definitions of what constitutes a great market. (Also, only in B-S-Land does "on the right economic terms" = "paid for with someone else's money".)

Much, much more ridiculous than this element of the story, though, was the whole Isle of Capri thing. We're all still clear that, strictly speaking, the Penguins and slot machines have nothing to do with each other, right?

Let's see: three groups make applications to a political body for (A) the "right" to build a casino, and (B) for said casino to be a local monopoly enforced by men with guns from another political body (I'm not trying to be obtuse here -- if the Penguins or someone else decided, "Sod it, we're building a casino without your permission", it would end with police occupying the construction site).

As part of their applications, the groups make numerous promises that are not at all connected to operating a casino, but that are expressly intended to gain political favour (we'll build X, we'll donate to Y, etc. etc.). Other politicians express their opinions on the various merits of the proposals.

And when the decision is finally made, the unsuccessful bidders express dismay that the decision may have been political. Aieeee!!! I just shake my head thinking about the millions and millions of dollars spent to win a license that is now gone with the wind. All of the following seem less insane to me that what the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania actually did:
Instead, we got this terribly wasteful and expensive process guaranteed to satisfy a few and disappoint many.

I think Andy's right: the Pens' best shot is Mark Cuban, or someone like him. He's an entrepreneur (by which I mean I guy who owns his challenges, not a deal-making highwayman). There are presently NHL franchises that have less in the way of natural advantages (i.e. hockey culture and history) that are successful on the whole. If there is a way for the Penguins to be viable in Pittsburgh without the need for a nine-figure sum of Other People's Money, then he'd be the guy to find it and make it happen.

If the Pens' survival continues to be dependent on their success in elbowing around the lip of the cannibal pot, then I doubt it'll end well, and I sure as hell don't care to pay attention to the jostling.


It appears that Mario has smartened up, and is going to move the team while retaining ownership. Good for him, if he's serious. I'd post the link, but I'm off to see Rocky Balboa.

I still don't understand how the league could have the nerve to place a no-move restriction on Balsillie, and then give the go ahead for a move a week later.

Andy, the league is scared of making Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment mad.

Its easy to understand.

The Evil Empire Strikes Again!

Or maybe Bettman didn't want to admit that his CBA does not insulate teams from marketplace realities like slumping attendance.

Actually, it probably was MLSE.

I fail to believe it was anything other than the Leafs being all NIMBY about everything that prevented Balsillie from buying the team.

Pittburgh, meet Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Hartford. You should all get along reeeeal well. (Minneapolis is excluded, as St. Paul is bloody well close enough)

I respect your appeal to a free market solution. You get my vote.
Unfortunately, sports teams are corporate welfare bums of the highest order. To pick just one example, the Flames exist because Calgary and Alberta taxpayers shouldered a gigantic financial burden to build the Saddlesore, and refurbish it through the National Infrastructure Program. (If someone tries to tell me the Calgary Olympics made money, I'm coming to visit you on my next trip home and it won't be for hugs and beers). We're all wise enough to know by now that sports teams bring no independently proveable financial benefit to a community. It's always an emotional appeal (ie blackmail). Mario tried to bend PA politicians over the, ahem, pork barrel. It didn't work. Now he'll take his team to whatever political realm is willing to rape taxpayers so that millionaire hockey players and team owners don't go without caviar this Christmas.

Balboa was awesome. Just awesome.

Some days I really think Fenwick should have been the newspaper columnist and I should have just gone ahead like the other kids in Math 31 and taken an engineering degree.

I think sweatyo pretty much has the best theory going over on Mudcrutch's blog. This has less to do with MLSE and the Pens moving than the NHL not wanting another Canadian team. After all a city like Las Vegas or Houston would 'grow' the league more in a big US market *sigh*.

Well written piece (I wish I had written something like tha).

I think the problem is not that the Penguins survival depends upon somebody else building them a stadium. I think they could build a stadium and still turn a profit. The problem is they don't have to build that stzadium. Somebody else will. If somebody else is not in Pittsburgh they will go to Kansas City or wherever to gewt their free stadium.

The problem is that the opportunity cost of buildin g your own stadium is too great. Most pro sports teams don't have to do it, so as an owner in the NHL, its not something you want to do. In general its not something you have to do.

There are probably a dozen teams that are (excluding stadium issues) in worse markets than the Pens. And those teams survival will eventually be dependant upon the local governments buying them new arenas.

By then, I wouldn't be too suprised if Pittsburgh built a new stadium (even if the Pens depart) and lure away one of those teams back to Pittsburgh.

The taxpayer funded stadium train has long left the station. Pittsburgh is bankrupt (in the real, financial, total-liabilities-exceed-total-assets sense, not metaphorically). It's already a very high tax jurisdiction, and the voters rejected a sales tax in favour of the much more popular Steelers a few years ago.

Matt, your screed against the auction process is correct, but their process is no worse than the any used in Alberta to similar purpose. It's also no worse than the provincial liquor monopoly. Such passion can be used at home--your people need you!

By the way, if Pittsburgh doesn't pay for a stadium, and I don't see how they can possibly afford it, it is very good news for Canadian NHL fans. Canadian cities have proven time and again that their appetite for stadium subsidies is considerably limited compared to American's. Fewer American subsidies make it even less likely that a team will move south.

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It pains me to so wholeheartedly agree with a person who cheers for the Flames, but very well said.

Both Calgary and Edmonton are also now talking about "needing" new facilities in their respective cities.

Call me a cynic, but I think it has more to do with the fact that both are coming off recent cup finals and the ownership groups "striking while the iron is hot."

It's doubtful their musings would even have an audience in either city if they had been toiling in the Western Conference basement for the past few years.

Edmonton's mayor Mandel is on the front cover of today's Edmonton
Journal readying his poorly spray-painted gold shovel for an arena groundbreaking.

At least he claims "we need to be creative and not burden the taxpayers."

I'll believe it when I see it.

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