When Dave Checketts announced that the Blues are for sale…again…many fans immediately feared the worst…that the franchise would be sold to out of town investors that will move it to Winnipeg or Hamilton, Ontario or to Kansas City. While it’s reasonable to fear for the near term ability of the Blues to win a Stanley Cup, a franchise move doesn’t appear to be an option.
Checketts pointed out that the way a potential sale is structured; the buyer will have to buy the real estate, the building lease and the club. It’s all one entity, and can’t be separated. It doesn’t make much sense…unless someone has ridiculous amounts of money to waste in this economy…to buy the package and own Scottrade Center’s lease without a main tenant.
The NHL has franchise issues to deal with that are more pressing than the St. Louis issue. The league had to take over the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes franchise almost a year and a half ago, and has made a huge effort to keep that team there. They found a buyer, but a suit has been filed to prevent the city of Glendale from providing him money to finish the sale.
The New York Islanders have been through more owners than the Blues have, several of them criminals or people that didn’t have nearly enough money to own a team. That franchise averages only 11,000 fans per game. Long Island is a problem for the league, but the Islanders are still there.
The Pittsburgh Penguins went more than a decade with little financial backing and little hope of getting a new arena. It took the drafting of Sidney Crosby and a couple of Stanley Cup Finals appearances to get the Pens on solid footing. Even though there were threats to move…to Kansas City, to Canada…the NHL was steadfast in keeping that franchise in Western Pennsylvania.
Currently, Checketts says there are no credible buyers on the horizon. “There’s been nothing to suggest that someone is ready to play at this level. There have been no credible offers,” he said. Keep in mind, though, that Checketts wasn’t ready to play at the NHL level, either. He needed the investment firm of Tower Brook Capital Partners to own 70% of the franchise, and when he lost them, he lost the ability to “own” a team.
As he has been since he started the process of getting the franchise himself, Checketts is committed to keeping the team here. “I don’t think we would even consider a sale process that wouldn’t have that in mind,” he said. The NHL is committed to St. Louis, and we’re committed to St. Louis.” Even if the best offer would come from the outside, I have to believe that the NHL would side with keeping the team here if there’s a St. Louis offer. That happened in 1983, when a guy named Bill Hunter wanted to buy and move the team to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. When NHL owners rejected that move, Ralston-Purina, Corp. gave up the franchise, leaving it on the league’s doorstep. Rather than sell to Hunter or outside interests, the NHL sold the Blues to Harry Ornest at a bargain price.
Since awarding a franchise to St. Louis, the National Hockey League has made a commitment to this community. I don’t think that will change. I think the Blues will be here, and based on history, I would be shocked if the NHL would allow them to leave.
So we can fear what we might see on the ice in the future, but we don’t need to fear for the future of the Blues in St. Louis.