Longer article in the Dispatch this morning. This is also the Dispatch Hot Issue today, and votes and comments are, perhaps unsurprisingly, going strongly against the idea of raising “sin taxes” and using the money for the county to buy the arena.
Also of note is the announcement of cost cuts at Worthington Industries, the McConnell family business. It’s not a stretch to assume that economic problems in the main business would make them less tolerant of losses by the hockey team.
As I’ve noted on here before, I am generally no fan of public subsidies for pro sports — the Bengals and Reds fiascoes in Hamilton County were enough. But I admit I’m a little torn on this, just given that I would personally be devastated if the Blue Jackets left town. But really, given the extent we’re seeing all sorts of cuts in state programs, in local services, etc., I can’t really fathom saying we’re going to raise extra revenue, but instead of, say, restoring Help Me Grow Ohio, we’re going to spend it on getting a better lease for an NHL team (Yeah, I know this would be county money instead of state, but ultimately there’s only one taxpayer, so if we’re asking for more from them, it should address the biggest needs first). In good economic times this might make sense, but in good economic times, who knows if this issue would even have arisen?
Obviously, just because the team has said they are losing money does not mean they are inevitably relocating. I listened to Rod Bryden making threats to move the Senators for several years, and ultimately watched the team almost miss making payroll, but they didn’t move, and the situation improved with the new ownership. A lot of people have a vested interest in keeping the Jackets around, not the least of which is Nationwide, who without them as primary tenant, are sitting on a white elephant of an arena, and an entertainment district into which they have invested millions which is now lacking 40+ nights a year of business. And although it is true that in general, pro sports teams don’t bring a lot to a region as a whole economically (because they just reallocate money that would have been spent in the region anyway), the city of Columbus has an obvious interest in keeping the Arena District, which has been one of the bright spots downtown, going well. So there are a lot of people locally who will be looking for a way to ensure the team stays here and gains a solid footing.
As well, in the 90s when we saw franchises move from Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford, the economy was stronger and there was a bull market for pro sports, with lots of cities trying to attract teams. Now I would say there are more troubled NHL teams than cities that seem like they would want them. Phoenix is obviously in the deepest straits, the Isles look to be in trouble without a new arena, Atlanta is a mess with ownership issues, Florida has been bad for so long that they’ve effectively killed their fanbase. But as far as likely relocation cities, it’s really Balsillie in Hamilton/Mississauga/Waterloo/Innerkip or the empty new building in KC. Most of the rest of the cities that get tossed about seem to fall more into the “wouldn’t it be cool if X had an NHL team?” category than places with buildings and potential owners lined up and waiting for a team. Which I think is why the NHL has changed their tune on franchise relocation and worked hard to keep Ottawa, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Nashville where they were. Columbus has shown that with a competitive team, this can be a hockey city, and I think the league will try to keep them here unless it becomes completely untenable.
All that said, though, it’s never nice to hear your team being talked about in terms of possible relocation. I do hope they can figure it out, although I just can’t get behind the sin tax proposal right here, right now.
I’m thinking it’s also time to re-read High Stakes this weekend and refresh my memory about the arena politics in Columbus, since I wasn’t living here when all that went on.