With recent playoff success in non-traditional hockey markets of Phoenix, Nashville and Los Angeles, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman appears to be moving forward with plans to expand the league to Mexico. The locations and amount of teams to be added have not been announced, but it is suspected that at least 2 teams will be added, including at least one in Mexico City, the Mexican capital.
“With the same population as all of Canada, Mexico City by itself is an untapped hockey market” said Bettman. While the commissioner notes that not many people in Mexico know anything about hockey, he says this is largely “inconsequential” as they will learn to love the game once they have a team advance to at least the second round of the playoffs.
This move comes as a surprise to many hockey fans who were expecting some of these southern teams to be moving north to traditional hockey markets such as Quebec City or Toronto. Bettman retorted this by saying “we have no interest in letting a team move to a city which has failed to support a team financially in the past” also noting that “the Leafs are already embarrassment enough to the league”.
Bettman however wants to take the league in a new direction, and creating new teams in Mexico will help with the league realignment. The proposed “Canadian Vacation Division” would include both teams from Florida as well as all the new expansion teams in Mexico. “If the locals aren't attending all of the games, the Canadians vacationing there surely will” said the commissioner. Bettman expects the Mexican teams to be a big draw to Canadian vacationers noting that marijuana is “practically legal” there so it should be just like home to many Canadians.
Critics have opposed the move by Bettman saying that there will be no financial support for the new teams, but Bettman says there are many potential owners vying for a new investment. “Leaders of both the marijuana and cocaine cartels have shown great interested in owning an NHL team” said the commissioner regarding the ownership situation. Furthermore, with the current government in the United States, drug laws do not appear that they will be relaxed anytime soon, which will allow the drug cartels to continue to record massive profits needed to own an NHL team for many years to come.
Mexican government is also in support of these plans and said in the future they'd love to see an entire division of Mexican teams. Not only would they provide a boost to the local economy, the arenas that would need to be built would provide a place for locals to cool down from the Mexican heat. Current Mexican President Felipe Calderón said that “ultimately this move is about the future of the Mexico and Mexican hockey. If we are able to make a few pesos off of people needing to cool down then that is an added bonus”.
Bettman later added that if at some point these new teams came under financial troubles the NHL would gladly “foot the bill” to keep hockey where it belongs.
Senior Sports Analyst
Reporting for The Lapine