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Quebec City’s hopes of landing an NHL team improve after council approves naming rights deal

Sep 6, 2011, 9:25 PM EDT

Nordiques Rally Hockey AP

While the former NHL market has a long way to go before it actually lands another NHL team, Tuesday marked a big day for hockey fans in Quebec City. The Vancouver Sun reports that the Quebec City council approved an agreement that will make Quebecor the naming rights holder for the pending $400 million, NHL-friendly arena. It’s important to note that the actual arena deal still needs to go through, but this is still a promising sign for the bill’s loudest proponents.

Quebecor will reportedly pay for the naming rights for at least 25 years, with the option of adding on 15 years after that. As we noted in a previous post, the media company will pay $63.5 million during that 25-year period if the NHL returns and $33 million if that dream dies. Quebecor’s rent would be $4.5 million with the NHL and $2.5 million if the building goes without an NHL team.

The plan specifies that the arena would be built by 2015, while the Vancouver Sun reveals that the stated goal is to attract an NHL team by 2020.

The gang at Orland Kurtenblog took a look at the controversy caused by the taxpayer-fueled arena deal. On one hand, you have critics like Graeme Hamilton who worry that the arena would host very little beyond pee wee hockey if the NHL doesn’t come calling, despite what Mayor Regis Labeaume called a “win-win” deal.

Mr. Labeaume has no time for those who suggest the project might be beyond the means of a province that cannot even maintain its basic infrastructure. “Our city and its citizens deserve a facility worthy of a capital city,” he said Tuesday. He said geological testing at the proposed site will begin this fall, and the project’s final budget will be known by March. The target date for completion is September 2015.

With no guarantee that the NHL will return to a market it abandoned with the 1995 departure of the Nordiques, the project represents a significant risk.  Four-hundred-million dollars would be a lot of money for two weeks of Pee-Wee hockey and some pop music concerts. But it seems that as long as the dream of an NHL returning to Quebec remains alive, no price is too steep.

Orland Kurtenblog counters that going without an NHL team might not necessarily be a death sentence for the new building.

Fair enough, and I’m the first to bristle at the thought of taxpayers subsidizing pro sports. But arenas can still pack ‘em in without a major-league sports tenant. In 2008, Winnipeg’s MTS Centre was the third-busiest facility in Canada. In 2010, Kansas City’s Sprint Centre was the third-busiest in the United States.

That’s not to say the only key to arena profitability is keeping the calendar full – you don’t want to be the liquidation store of arenas. “Yes, we do birthday parties.”

However, without an NHL team, a new building in Quebec City would host more than “two weeks of Pee-Wee hockey and some pop music concerts.”

That being said, many might judge such a high-risk investment as a failure if Quebec City cannot land an NHL team. It’ll be years – maybe even almost a decade – before we would be able to call say the proposed $400 million arena a blunder, with five years for the city to attract a team if the arena is built by 2015 as planned.

These are high stakes situations that are often controversial, especially when public money is being used (as it would be if everything goes through the system). A lot can change, but approving the naming rights deal is a big step in the right direction. That being said, they have a long road to travel before the Nordiques – or some other Quebec team with a different name – can return to the NHL.

  1. bsputnik - Sep 7, 2011 at 12:49 AM

    I am generally one to not have a problem with tax-payer subsidies for sports facilities. Major league teams are luxury items and that is the cost of having them. I voted in favor of paying for Heinz Field and PNC Park and later was in support of Consol Energy Center. Generally speaking, nearly half of all residents in an area are for spending the money. But this is a huge gamble. If the arena were to be ready for next year, that would be no problem, you just buy the Coyotes. But come 2015, that likely won’t be an option. Are there going to be more teams available? Possibly. But I wouldn’t gamble $400 million dollars on it. Especially with KC trying to bring the Scouts back in an arena that is ready to go. Additionally, as great as it is that Winnipeg got to use the Jets name, Colorado is not owned by the NHL. I do believe that the owners of the Avalanche still own the Nordiques name and logo. That is the Kroenke clan. They may not want to give that property up and if they do, I’m sure it won’t come cheap. If Quebec does come back, it may not be as the Nordiques, further twisting the knife that was the 1996 Stolen Cup. But good luck to the people of Quebec. I would love to see the team return as the Nordiques(2). Then all we need to do is get the Whalers back in Hartford and all will be right with the world.

    • kellyb9 - Sep 7, 2011 at 9:30 AM

      @bsputnik – I agree, it is a big gamble, but on the other side of the coin, I think Bettman, if he has any sense, should be paying attention. Here we have cities and fanbases that are itching at the prospect of getting an NHL team so much so, that they are willing to build an arena without any strong commitment for a team. Meanwhile, we have teams that aren’t drawing in non-traditional hockey markets.

      • bsputnik - Sep 7, 2011 at 1:16 PM

        As I breath a sigh of relief that Sid will be returning at some point but with no time-table, I do agree. The arena should be built to show how serious the city/providence is. With the respective dollars of Canada and US coming together, there is no reason to not move teams north. Too many franchises are losing money. This year’s revenue will be higher because there are now Jets where there had been Thrashers. Quebec will sell out every game, that is more than the Panthers can say. A second Toronto or Hamilton team will sell out every game, the Coyotes will not (along with 9(?) other teams). The year the Coyotes move, a significant jump in revenue will occur. Losing $50 million to making $50 million is $57 million more to players, nearly +$2 million in cap space/team. The players would and should not put up with that when there are markets that are hockey hungry that will better support teams. I don’t like seeing teams move, but it only makes sense. You need the arena to get a team, so take care of that and get hockey back to a great city (that I would love to visit one day, but I don’t speak French).

  2. doctorrosenrosen - Sep 7, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    I’d love to see a team back in Quebec City, and the way the Canadian dollar has appreciated, I think Gary Bettman might too.

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