Will Contraction, Viability, And Profits Be An Issue For The Blues?

Dilip Vishwanat

Forbes published a pro-NHL contraction article the other day, arguing that decreasing the number of teams is the best way to ensure viability for the league. The Blues were mentioned in that article -- would it ever be a possibility?

The other week, Forbes writer Mike Ozanian wrote an article detailing that the Toronto Maple Leafs were the first NHL team to be worth a billion dollars. Then, in a Bleacher Report style slideshow, he went through the rest of the teams' worths. You could be faulted for, about halfway through, going "where're the Blues?" The answer to that question, of course, was that the Blues were in dead last place. With a team value of around $130 million, the Blues are the least valuable franchise in the NHL.

It's unfortunate, honestly, that a franchise with a solid fanbase and generally outstanding TV ratings for a market this side should be struggling so much. Of course, there are lots of struggling markets out there, whether because of the economy, ownership decisions, or just being in a market where teams have to work harder for success. So many factors go into making a team unviable, but there is a difference between being a team doomed to never have success and being a team where outside influences are the issue, not the on-ice product and the fanbase.

Unfortunately, with the CBA talks ongoing and a major issue being keeping the league's franchises viable, it's caused an outcry for contraction. Also on Forbes' website, writer Tom Van Riper makes a case for contraction. The usual suspects are named -- mostly Sunbelt teams and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Regardless of on-ice success, he feels that they're unviable and need to go. Ok, fine. That's an argument that's been heard before and will be heard about a million more times thanks to those teams' location (and in the Blue Jackets' case, terribleness). Van Riper also mentions the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. The Islanders lack of viability comes from on-ice problems, and the Devils' problems are partially ownership issues and partially compounded by the economy.

The Devils and Islanders' problems are fixable -- I fully expect the Islanders to become stronger economically within the next ten years thanks to their youth and their new arena deal. The Devils, once eventually sold, show no reason that they couldn't turn around. But, if you want knee-jerk fixes to a problem that's been years in the making, then contraction of those two teams apparently makes sense.

Van Riper also mentions the Blues in his article (and a photo of them features prominently). He doesn't give an outright call for contraction, but the suggestion is thinly veiled. The Blues are just mentioned once as a team that's lost money every season since the last lockout, but are victims of guilt by association in the rest of the article. He mentions low TV numbers -- that's not the case for the Blues, not at all. The playoff series against the Sharks saw a ten-year high hit in ratings. A regular season game against the Canucks grabbed a 5.6 rating for Fox Sports Midwest, which isn't half bad. Hockey Day in America? St. Louis was a top five television market. In 2010 and 2011 St. Louis had the fifth best TV ratings in the NHL.

I'm not sure how non-viable and non-traditional this makes our city as a hockey town. Obviously, people like this sport and have liked it for over 45 years. The Blues were ninth in attendance last season, playing to just over 98% capacity and averaging 18,089 a game. No other team on Van Riper's contraction list came close. You can't look at these facts and say that this is a team that the NHL would want to lose, even with the annual losses.

Perhaps the league would much prefer to work on fixing whatever problem ills the Blues. Perhaps it's all local economics more than anything else. Honestly, though, I don't see anything happening to the Blues. Of course I also never though that the league'd give up on a market like Atlanta either, and I was pretty off about that. But Atlanta and St. Louis are complete opposites. The Blues have everything that the Thrashers never did, which should translate into them having a chance.

Ozanian tweeted that the Blues were re-locating to Canada last summer, and obviously that didn't happen. Maybe Forbes should stick to number crunching, and the rest of us should stick to hockey outlets when it comes to opinion and analysis.

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