NHL to Houston? Four Complications for Landing a Team

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta will need to own any hockey franchise that plays in Houston.
Photo by Jeff Balke
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta will need to own any hockey franchise that plays in Houston.
A critical referendum in Arizona that would approve the building of a new hockey arena for the Phoenix Coyotes failed by a wide margin recently. The result is the almost inevitable move of the Coyotes to another city. It's a common refrain, one we've dealt with in Houston when the Oilers moved to Nashville. What once cost us an NFL franchise might gain us one in the NHL.

But before you go breaking out the pucks and hockey sweaters, keep in mind that there are hurdles to moving any team here. They aren't impossible to overcome and Houston, being the fourth largest city in America, is still likely in the driver's seat if we really want to pursue an NHL team. Here's what could derail those plans.

Other cities will be in on the sweepstakes.

Remember that Los Angeles was essentially considered a sure thing to land an expansion franchise when Robert McNair snuck in and swiped it out from under them by both throwing a boatload of money at NFL owners and by being marginally organized, something the parties in LA couldn't seem to accomplish. The same holds true in Houston. To get a team here, everything must be well organized and a lot of money will be needed. Ownership is a problem that will have to be solved as you'll see in a moment and there is the small matter of a building for the team to play in.

Houston doesn't have much of a pro hockey record.

With all due respect to the Aeros and their wildly passionate fans, there have always been questions whether Houston, a city with year-round warm weather and only a marginal track record of supporting hockey, could be a great city for the NHL. The size of the TV market will certainly help to assuage some of those fears, but if you pitted us against a team that regularly gets snow and can actually skate outdoors in the winter, from a pure climatology standpoint, we lose.

Tillman Fertitta must own the team for it to make a profit.

Shared stadiums with multiple owners don't work because the one that holds the lease makes the lion's share of the revenue. That is Fertitta, who owns the lease at the Toyota Center. He has said he wants to own a hockey franchise, but could he, even with his wealth, convince the NHL he has the resources to buy one? Even if he could, it is widely thought that Les Alexander, the Rockets former owner, was the primary reason hockey never made it to Houston. Alexander was not well liked by the NHL owners and brass. Could Fertitta turn that around?

If Fertitta doesn't buy the team, a new building could not be build in Houston.

Before you start thinking an owner could just move here and build a new stadium in Houston, we direct your attention to the agreement between the Rockets, Fertitta and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, the organization that collects taxes in order to support Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and Shell Energy Stadium. When the referendum in 2000 passed setting up the construction of the Toyota Center, it was agreed that no multi-purpose facility could be built within 30 miles of Toyota Center. This was done to prevent competition that would render the ability of a building like Toyota Center to turn a profit with dozens of concerts and events that aren't basketball every year.

Minute Maid, NRG, Shell Energy and others are not considered multi-purpose, but arenas are. It is why Compaq Center closed immediately following the opening of Toyota Center and became Lakewood Church. It's also why the Aeros minor league team was forced to play in the new building and ultimately had to relocate because it couldn't be profitable in a building where the lease was owned by someone else.