Houston Passes Up Expansion Hockey

Don't expect to see anything like this at Toyota Center anytime soon.
Don't expect to see anything like this at Toyota Center anytime soon.
John Royal

Sorry, Houston. That whole NHL expansion team to Houston thing, it just ain't happening. Not at this moment, at least.

Expansion bids had to be submitted to the NHL earlier this week. And no one claiming to represent Houston submitted a bid. In fact, in kind of a surprising development, only two bids were submitted to the league, from ownership groups wishing to place teams in Las Vegas and Quebec City. 

There was no bid from Seattle (which was expected to submit a bid) because there is no arena, still no deal for an arena to be built and because none of the competing ownership groups could reach an agreement with any group looking to build an arena. There was no bid from the Toronto area, or from Portland, or Milwaukee. Meaning that the NHL, which hoped to start a feeding frenzy that would add lots of cash to the league's coffers, instead finds itself stuck with the two cities that were pretty much locks to get a team in the first place.

I'm a supporter of hockey in Houston. I believe that an NHL team in Houston would thrive just as the Aeros thrived in the WHA, IHL and AHL. But as much as I've been critical of Rockets owner Les Alexander for his role in forcing the Aeros to relocate to Des Moines, Iowa, I've got to confess, I don't blame him for not pursing a bid.

The NHL stated the expansion fee would be $500 million. And it cost $10 million just to submit a bid. That's a lot of money to throw away when it's evident that one of those expansion teams is going to Las Vegas and when Quebec City is making the full court press to get back an NHL franchise and the Quebec ownership group is a high-powered media group that controls the NHL's French-speaking media rights in Canada.

Then let's look at the fact that the NHL has multiple cities where hockey is failing, first and foremost being Phoenix. So why rush to buy into a league by paying such an insane price when the league's in only so-so shape, and especially when it might be possible to get a failed team for a cheaper price, then relocate it to Houston?

Add in that the TV money for hockey is nowhere what comes in for basketball, plus throw in the costs of minor league franchises, and it just makes no sense, right now (this would be a good place to once again mourn the failure of CSN Houston — if the thing had succeeded, Alexander could've sold the rights to his network and kept all the advertising money that the network made, this enriching his overall bottom line and making it easier to swallow losses from owning a hockey team).

And for all we know, Alexander is still feeling the pain from his attempts to get an NHL team in the 1990s. His purchase of the Edmonton Oilers with the plans to relocate the team to Houston fell through. Then, when he was an overwhelming favorite to get an expansion franchise in the late 1990s, he was thwarted when Chuck Watson, the owner of the Aeros and the person who controlled the lease for Compaq Center, threw a hissy and wouldn't let an Alexander-owned team play at the building because it would harm the value of the Aeros.

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Now Alexander has the same deal for Toyota Center that Watson had with Compaq Center, meaning pretty much that he has to be the one to get a team and own it. And even though he's the most successful sports owner in Houston sports history, he's treated as another John McMullen while Bob McNair is treated as a god. So why should Alexander go out on a limb, especially when that limb would end up costing more than half a billion dollars?

I'm still angry with Alexander over his treatment of the Aeros, but damn it, right now, it was just bad business for him to bid for the NHL. Who knows, maybe once Phoenix finally fails as an NHL market, Alexander will swoop in and bring that team to Houston. But until that happens (maybe never), Houston will continue to be a no-NHL zone.

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