Fifty million dollars can help put a club like the Tampa Bay Lightning on the ice in its first year of existence and make it an exciting, skilled team that even led the Norris Division for several days this season.
Or, $50 million can get you the hapless Ottawa Senators, winners of three games.
More important, though, from the NHL owners' standpoint, the money the league stands to realize from the two conditional franchises awarded Thursday to Orange County and South Florida couldn't have come at a better time. Last month, Justice George Adams of the Ontario Court ruled that the NHL, the NHL Pension Society and Manufacturer's Life Insurance Co. had wrongly diverted $21 million (Canadian) in pension funds.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 12, 1992 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 4 Column 3 Sports Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
NHL expansion--A story in Friday's editions incorrectly identified the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company as one of several organizations found in a Canadian court to have wrongly diverted $21 million (Canadian) in NHL pension funds. No allegations were made against the insurance company, which was a party to the court proceeding only because the annuity contract in question was bought from it.
Lawyer Mark Zigler represented seven retired players--Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Andy Bathgate, among them--and said that, with interest, the NHL could owe the former players as much as $41 million.
The decision is under appeal, but there is a similar lawsuit making its way through the federal court system in the United States that could hold the NHL responsible for treble damages.
With the NHL's continued lack of success in court cases, the feeling among the Board of Governors was that the timing was excellent for a significant cash infusion.
The franchises were awarded by a unanimous vote at the Board of Governors' meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. This is the third time the NHL has expanded in the last three years. San Jose joined the league last season, and Tampa Bay and Ottawa began play in October.
For King owner Bruce McNall, who is chairman of the Board of Governors, it had special significance.
"This probably is the most important thing I've ever done," said McNall, the man who brought Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles in 1988 from Edmonton.
"(It's important) because we brought in two huge companies with these two franchises. This is the first venture for Disney in any sport. They're not in baseball. They're not in anything like this. To get people of this caliber is tremendous."
Others around the NHL echoed McNall.
"You've got to look at the caliber of people involved," said Toronto General Manager Cliff Fletcher, an alternate governor.
"It's great ownership. It's great for the game. These guys are major league."
Those around the league are more impressed by the quality of this ownership than that of the two groups two years ago. Tampa Bay's financing looked shaky, and its effort wasn't solidified until a Japanese group came forward at the last minute. Ottawa's new arena project has faced strong civic opposition and ground still has not been broken there.
No one is doubting the financial wherewithal of Disney--which got the Orange County franchise--and Blockbuster. The league has had its eye on the South Florida market, and several governors predicted that Miami would get a franchise if suitable owners came forward.
Wayne Huizenga, the chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., also owns the Florida Marlins, an expansion baseball team; is part owner of the Miami Dolphins and holds 50% interest in Joe Robbie Stadium, where the Dolphins play.
Initially, it appears that the South Florida entry will play at the Miami Arena, but there is speculation that Huizenga will build an arena near Joe Robbie, establishing a sports complex similar to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
Orange County will have a ready-made facility when the Anaheim Arena opens in June. The proximity of the new franchise to the Kings, however, prompts concern as to whether Southern California can support two hockey teams.
McNall apparently is not concerned.
"It became an easy answer for me because it was Disney coming in," he said. "It might have been different, a harder decision, if it was another team or another group. We spent too much time and energy building up hockey in L.A. It would have been different if it had been a franchise that was failing financially.
"Disney made it very simple. Maybe we can make hockey more of a Southern California sport. Of the 17% (season-ticket holders) from Orange County, I don't think we'll lose all of those. We might pick up some new fans. It was certainly a factor. We will have to work that much harder to sell hockey."
McNall will benefit from a large cash infusion. He will get a $25-million territorial indemnity from the Walt Disney Co. Another $75 million in franchise fees from Disney and Blockbuster Entertainment will be split among the 23 other NHL teams.
While McNall's hockey team has been profitable and playing to sellout crowds without the injured Gretzky, some of his other business ventures have not fared as well lately. The most prominent example is his football team, the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, which he owns with Gretzky and John Candy. That franchise has lost about $7 million in the last two years.
In the long term, Disney ownership could prove to be a very competitive element for the Kings.