Canada can support more NHL teams, study argues

As the puck drops on another season of NHL playoff hockey, the author of an economic study of the league says Canadian fans are getting sold short by the NHL's U.S.-first focus.

Author calls NHL a 'cartel' that fails to meet demands of Canadian fans

A report out today says the Toronto area could support two more NHL teams. Nil Koksal reports. 2:33

As the puck drops on another season of playoff hockey, the author of an economic study of the National Hockey League says Canadian fans are getting sold short.

Tony Keller, a fellow at the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto, co-authored a report that concludes Canada could support up to 12 NHL franchises — double the current six — including two more teams to join the Toronto Maple Leafs in southern Ontario.

In his report, Keller argues that while the bulk of hockey's financial support comes from Canada, the NHL continues to push a failed policy of expansion into southern U.S. markets ambivalent to the game, such as Phoenix, Nashville and Florida. 

"It's a very odd situation where the NHL generates about a third of its revenues in Canada, but only about a fifth of its teams in Canada," Keller told CBC News on Tuesday.

His report says the best place to locate a new Canadian team would be the Golden Horseshoe, an area that rings Toronto and is home to about nine million people. But other cities could also support NHL teams, the report finds, including Hamilton and one of either London and Kitchener in Ontario. Winnipeg and Quebec City could also support teams, according to the report. 

Tony Keller has co-authored a report that examines the finances of the NHL and concludes that Canada could support a total of 12 NHL franchises. ((CBC))

"The fan demand, the fan interest is so high here and yet the number of teams, the supply of hockey, is so restrained," said Keller. "There's no question all six of the cities we studied would have higher revenues than any of the teams in the U.S. sunbelt."

The NHL has resisted recent attempts to move U.S. teams to Canadian cities, something Keller suggests may violate Canada's Competition Act.

NHL is 'a cartel'

"Under the strict legal definition, the NHL is a cartel," he said. "It's a group of businesses that co-operate for the purposes of reducing competition. That's what they do."

But the Mowat report was not well received by the general manager of one of the teams it suggests should accept a new franchise as a neighbour: the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brian Burke said he has not read the study but is familiar with similar proposals that have called for adding a new team west of Toronto.

"I think it's is a golden pile of horse something else," said Burke. "It's not a matter of viability, it's a matter of a second or third team being here without hurting Toronto, Buffalo and Detroit."

Jon Desouza, a hockey fan, would like to see a new franchise located in the Greater Toronto Area.

"In Hamilton, they'll fill bigger stadiums than Carolina ever would right? Carolina stadium's empty, small towns in Canada would fill stadiums when big city in the U.S. won't," he said.

The NHL did not respond to a request from CBC News to discuss the contents of the report.