Last week we talked about the NBA and NHL finals and the spatial differences in their fan bases. With the Coyotes moving from Phoenix to Salt Lake City, we decided to look at that choice from the perspective of the potential fan base.

Sports franchises have moved about quite frequently in the past, and for often different reasons. Major league sports franchises can be highly profitable, and, if the Toronto Maple Leafs are any indication, regardless of performance. Many times, the relocation is based on mundane things like stadium leases and public sector subsidies. The willingness of a city to invest in a new facility has been the main driver of relocations in recent years, and the fact that a city no longer has a team may not really be an indicator of their ability to attract a fan base and be profitable there.

NBA teams have changed cities more than NHL teams, and there are now thirteen cities that the league formerly considered home. The NHL, requiring ice, has been less likely to relocate teams, but six cities are now on the list of former NHL cities –

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Hartford, CT
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Oakland, CA
  • Quebec City, PQ

Most of the largest metropolitan areas are represented in the NBA and NHL rosters, some with multiple teams. We computed a weighted population score using the Panorama CanAm segment counts at the metropolitan area using a function created by looking at the interest level of people (from not a fan to ‘super’ fan level). Having rabid hockey fans in Halifax, Nova Scotia (which they do) does not overcome the small market size. We ranked the metro areas without current teams for each league using this scoring – and cities in bold text have never had a franchise in the league

For the NHL, where does Salt Lake City fit into this list? They are ranked 52nd as a market in our scoring – below places like Austin, Cleveland, and Cincinnati – and will be the 3rd smallest NHL market, just ahead of Buffalo and Winnipeg.

Will it be successful? Probably. But there are better choices, with Houston being the largest potential market which has never had a franchise. The NHL is a large league, and expansion beyond 32 teams will no doubt further dilute the quality of play, but if we had our say in the matter, we would not be thinking Salt Lake City, we would be considering Houston and perhaps a relaunch in St. Louis or Cleveland.