The Canucks could be getting new owners sooner than expected.
With on-ice performance declining over the past five years, the Canucks franchise has suffered a decline in both ticket prices and attendance; a scary trend for any team. After factoring in a struggling Canadian dollar, the Aquilinis are in a tough situation with the state of the franchise.
Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province reported earlier this week that the Aquilllinis are going to get a valuation of the franchise, which it has been rumoured they are looking to sell for a couple of years. There are a lot of things working against the business side of the Canucks right now, and the Aquilinis might feel it is time to cash in on the franchise now before the franchise loses too much value. The franchise that was valued at $800 million USD in 2014 by Forbes is not growing at the same extent that it was a few years ago.
When it comes to ticketing, the Canucks have seen a strong decline from their 2010-11 season to now. Per TiqIQ.com, the value of Canucks tickets in 2014-15 were a tad over $51 cheaper than tickets in 2010-11, and around $26 cheaper than tickets in 2013-14. Attendance last season was the lowest it had been in the past five years, with Rogers Arena only being filled to 98.9% capacity on average. While it doesn’t seem like much of a hit, when you factor in cheaper tickets on average, the yearly value for Canucks tickets were down $40.91 million compared to 2010-11, or $990,000 per game. While that was during the Canucks’ most successful season, it is a trend that has continued every year. Compared to the lockout shortened season, the team is down $540,000 per game in ticket value. While the 2013-14 ticketing information is skewed due to the Heritage Classic, it is safe to say the Canucks were still declining that year.
From a business perspective, it is a tough trend to deal with and can explain why management is focused on making the playoffs every year rather than full on rebuilding. It also helps explain the direction in which Linden, Benning, and the rest of the management team are taking, as they brought in players that will earn fan support even through difficult losses. These moves both help maximize the value of the franchise in the short term, while potentially harming it in the long run.
Also, this summer it was reported that Mike Gillis asked to rebuild in 2013, but was shot down. For owners looking to stick with a team for the long run, it would make more sense to take a hit in order to get back to the success they have when winning. However, for owners looking for a short term gain, pushing for the playoffs makes more sense. If the Aquilinis are really contemplating selling, then they would not want to rebuild. Instead, they would opt for pushing for the playoffs.
If there is anything more disturbing than the above for the Aquilinis, it is the fact that the Canucks failed to sell out in their home opener this year, making it the first time in over 10 years that they have failed to do so. Out of the 20 other teams that have had their home opener, only the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders failed to sell out their openers.
Furthermore, there may not be a better time to sell a franchise than now. There are a number of potential owners who want to dip their feet into the NHL market, and with the NHL announcing there is no planned expansion for the 2016-17 season, the threat of a new team entering the market is none for at least another season. That, and the fact that the rumoured expansion fee is $500 million will help persuade some prospective owners into trying to find a current team to buy if they are not concerned about location.
Quite possibly one of the most overlooked aspects in the direction a team is heading on ice is the ownership group. When you look at a franchise like the Buffalo Sabres, who were purchased in 2011 by Terry Pegula, you can see the impact an owner has on a team. Pegula stated that he wants to bring a cup to the Sabres, and that is the sole purpose of the franchise now. The Sabres traded a few years of poor on-ice product in exchange for a winning franchise. While they are working towards the latter, they have been clear throughout the entire process with their fans. The fans, in turn, bought into the plan in the hopes of reaping the rewards of a successful franchise.
Given the path the Canucks have taken in recent years, it makes sense that the Aquilinis are considering selling the franchise. It could mean more years of being a fringe playoff team rather than rebuilding more aggressively. However, fresh owners would be a welcoming and invigorating change to the organization, especially one committed to winning like Pegula.