Yesterday was not a very good day to be a Sharks fan. The team announced the inexplicable re-signing of Mike Brown to a two-year contract, word leaked out that longtime color analyst Drew Remenda will not be returning next season and, for the cherry on top of the shit sundae, Mark Purdy of the Mercury News wrote a piece that suggested the Sharks could be in danger of relocating due to a terrible television contract. Here's an excerpt from Purdy's piece explaining the issue:
Here's the issue: The Sharks' local deal pales compared to most other NHL teams. The team is in the middle of a long-term contract with Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area that yields the Sharks $7 million per season. And it has 14 more seasons to run.
Meanwhile, according to Forbes' magazine and website, the Toronto Maple Leafs receive $41 million per season in local TV rights. Several other teams — the Rangers, Canadiens, Red Wings — bring in more than $30 million per season. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have $20 million-plus-per-season deals, as do Dallas and New Jersey and the New York Islanders.
Needless to say, this puts the Sharks at a disadvantage. Do the math. Over the next five years alone, the Kings and Ducks will have a minimum of $65 million more than the Sharks to push payroll up to the salary cap limit and/or buy out contracts and/or turn a profit. The team says it isn't making one now.
"We have expressed some concerns over our TV deal directly with Comcast," Tortora said. "The deal, over time, has become substantially below the league average. Comcast has expressed a willingness to work with us in finding a creative solution that generates the appropriate value proposition for both sides."
In the most extreme version of the narrative, there is no creative solution and the Sharks continue to drain money. Plattner then tires of the red ink and decides to move the team outside the Bay Area market — where he could negotiate a better TV deal and abandon his current one here.
Essentially, Sharks ownership is crying foul that a Rick DiPietro-esque television contract they themselves signed five years ago now isn't enough money relative to what the other 29 NHL franchises are making. Granted, that's an oversimplification and, in fairness, parts of that ownership group have changed; Greg Jamison, who played a major role in negotiating that television deal, is out as CEO, Hasso Plattner is now the majority owner and former NHL VP of media John Tortora is now the team's COO. But, ultimately, ownership is attempting to renegotiate an awful TV deal with Comcast that many of them are responsible for signing and they're taking the Sharks' continued existence in the Bay Area hostage. It's gross but it's also the reality of North American professional sports franchises, who operate more like drug cartels than firms in a competitive marketplace.
What struck me as interesting about Purdy's article was the reference to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman intervening in the dispute as an "extraordinary" measure. I'm not so sure it's all that extraordinary. Here's a National Post article from last year about Bettman intervening in Oilers owner Daryl Katz's protracted shakedown of the Edmonton city council in an (ultimately successful) effort to land the team a new arena. The piece is rife with references to previous times Bettman has "intervened" in these types of disputes. When he isn't locking out players, securing the interests of team owners is Bettman's job. It's an established part of the playbook at this point.
Anything is possible and perhaps the Sharks' TV deal does become so acrimonious that they're playing in Seattle by 2017 (with our luck, they'd win the Stanley Cup their first year there) but I have my doubts. Threatening relocation is a fairly standard scare tactic for sports franchises looking for a handout. That handout is usually from taxpayers to finance a new arena deal (which, based on Purdy's article, might be the next chapter of this book), here it's to force a rights holder to adjust a contract in the Sharks' favor. Same shit, different day. I'm certainly no expert on this stuff but before you purchase a #48 Quebec Nordiques Tomas Hertl jersey, consider that threats to relocate delivered through the media are more or less standard operating procedure these days for sports franchises trying to get what they want.