Weak dollar would have threatened Winnipeg's NHL bid: Chipman

The Canadian dollar's recent fall is threatening Quebecor Inc's bid to bring back Quebec City's beloved National Hockey League franchise, the Nordiques.
(John Woods/Canadian Press)

The Canadian dollar's recent fall is threatening Quebecor Inc's bid to bring back Quebec City's beloved National Hockey League franchise, the Nordiques.

Had it been in a similar free-fall back in 2011, there's a good chance Winnipeggers wouldn't today be filling the MTS Centre to watch the Jets play.

"If the dollar was what it is right now, it would have been a material impact for sure," Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd, which owns the Jets, told Reuters.

Quebec City lost the Nordiques to Denver in 1995, while the Jets packed up and moved to Phoenix in 1996. A major factor in the moves was that a sagging Canadian dollar had increased costs in a league dominated by U.S.-based teams.

Canadian-based NHL teams earn ticket and concession revenue in Canadian dollars but salaries, which account for half of the league's hockey-related revenue, are paid in U.S. dollars.

Chipman said the flagging Canadian currency has had no impact on his team's bottom line through its first five seasons back in Winnipeg, citing the link between revenue and player salaries offset more than three-quarters of the currency's fall, with hedging mitigating the rest.

In the two decades since the original Jets and Nordiques moved down south, the NHL has imposed a player salary cap that decreases as revenue falls, giving Canadian teams a buffer against currency drops.

But that safeguard does not make the NHL's asking price for an expansion team any cheaper.

Quebecor is going to have to think really hard before shelling out that much money because it could be really hard to show a return on your investment.- len Hodgson, Conference Board of Canada

Montreal-based Quebecor, a telecommunications and media company, struck a deal in 2011 to manage Quebec City's new 18,259-seat Videotron Arena, just as it began talks with the NHL about a franchise. At that time, the Canadian dollar was trading at a slight premium to its American counterpart.

That's the same year True North Sports and Entertainment bought the Atlanta Thrashers and moved the team to Winnipeg for a reported $170 million.

Quebecor submitted its bid in July to bring NHL back to la belle province, vying with Las Vegas for a team that may start play in 2017.

The currency has since been hit hard by falling energy and commodity prices since then. With the Canadian dollar now worth about 73 U.S. cents — after touching a 12-year low of 68 cents in January — the NHL's fee of at least $500 million for a new franchise is now at $685 million.

"Passion can only take you so far," said Glen Hodgson, chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada and co-author of a book on the business of professional sports in Canada.

"Quebecor is going to have to think really hard before shelling out that much money because it could be really hard to show a return on your investment."

Quebecor declined a request for comment on its NHL bid.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, asked on Saturday about Quebec's chances, said he did not know if the currency's fall would be a factor in a purchase, but that he did not think the process had changed.

Bettman added that the league's governors were not ready to recommend whether or not the NHL should expand, and needed a few more months.

To be sure, Quebecor, with a market capitalization of $3.2 billion, may still have the resources and appetite for a bid.

But the dollar's plunge inevitably poses risk for Canadian teams who may need to hedge year after year, Hodgson said.

That's a troubling thought for fans who dream of the Nordiques skating again.

"People here really really love hockey," said Vince Cauchon, a Quebec City radio host who co-founded the fan website Nordiques Nation. "Every time we lose a cent on that dollar, it's pretty concerning."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.