If Kansas City ever throws its hat into the proverbial National Hockey League expansion ring, it appears the NHL would at least be willing to consider it.
In an interview with ESPN posted Monday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, “Kansas City has never been entirely off our radar screen. We have talked to potentially interested stakeholders in the past, and it’s certainly a market that in the right circumstances (including a desire by our board to entertain further expansion) our league would fairly evaluate and consider.”
The comments echo similar ones made in the past by the NHL management. Daly acknowledged Kansas City would have a long way to go before making it a realistic option for expansion, including interested ownership.
The most obvious candidate would be Lamar Hunt Jr., the owner of the Kansas City Mavericks, an ECHL team that plays its home games at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence. The Mavericks are an affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames and the AHL’s Stockton Heat starting in the 2017-18 season.
But Hunt has told The Star on a number of occasions that his end goal is not to bring an NHL team to Kansas City. He has outlined reasons why it doesn’t make financial sense for the city, including the $500 million NHL expansion fee, finding a local TV deal, selling corporate sponsorships and the city’s uncertain ability to regularly sell out games at a presumed Sprint Center home.
“I don’t think Kansas City can fill those buckets up,” Hunt told The Star last May. “You would need $100 million in revenue to have a legitimate hockey team business in Kansas City.
“I think it is an unrealistic reach at this point.”
Hunt did not deter from that stance in his interview for the ESPN article. He has further said the city needs to grow its youth programs in the area, and after leading the charge to form the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association two years ago, he plans to bring a top-level amateur team to Overland Park.
Daly noted that the Sprint Center would be a worthy home for a potential NHL team in Kansas City. The Sprint Center has drawn several NHL exhibition games, and the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild will play there on Sept. 28.
But that solves only one of several obstacles before Kansas City would be considered for the NHL, which will add its 31st team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, in the upcoming season.
“In evaluating potential locations for NHL teams, we typically look at three things: One, whether the market has or is building a suitable arena facility; two, the demographics of the market and whether they suggest an ability to support an NHL franchise; and, three, whether there is qualified and interested ownership to own and operate the franchise,” Daly told ESPN.
“While the Sprint Center certainly checks off the first of those boxes, the other two issues remain a work in progress.
“We opened a formal expansion process in June of 2015 and we did not receive an application for a Kansas City franchise. Further, we have never studied whether the market demographics of Kansas City are likely to be suitable for an NHL franchise long-term because there has not yet been a need to do so.”