After years of insisting on a Southern expansion strategy that paid dividends in places such as San Jose and Dallas but is still on shaky ground in Phoenix, Florida and Nashville, the NHL's also learned to recognize where it's wanted and where it can't afford to gamble. The league's second foray into Atlanta in 1999 ended in 2011 when the struggling Thrashers were sold to a Canadian group that brought them to Winnipeg and revived the long-dormant Jets. In Quebec City, ground has been broken on an 18,500-seat arena being built with the sole purpose of housing one of the league's floundering U.S. franchises. As with the Winnipeg example, the league seems likely to cut its losses and tap a seemingly bottomless Canadian fan base.
Even without those casual fans and open-armed Canadians, North America's No. 4 sport isn't so far removed from No. 3 as it seems. The NBA generates $4.1 billion dollars a year in revenue but has a relatively low profit of just more than $180 million dollars a year. The NHL's $3.3 billion in revenue and $160 million average profit looks puny compared with the NFL ($10 billion in revenue, $1 billion profit) and MLB ($8 billion revenue, $500 million profit), but it's still within striking distance of Kobe, LeBron and company. That's despite charging an average of $62 per ticket to the NBA's $51.
That the league's labor troubles, questionable expansion and relative media anonymity haven't killed it outright is a testament to both the game and the generations of fans who've grown to love it. That it's still considered a major sport after all is, like icing and the varied length of line shifts, a bit harder to explain.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.