For those who like to portray junior hockey as a string of Mom and Pop operations that struggle to make ends meet in the face of mounting efforts to unionize the players, today could not have been a good-news day.
According to multiple reports, the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec League have been sold to media giant Quebecor. (Which, in the interest of full disclosure, recently negotiated the purchase of 15 magazines from Transcontinental Media, one of which is The Hockey News.)
And you can be sure the sale was a blockbuster. We know the Remparts are worth a minimum of $16 million, since three years ago, a 25 percent stake in the franchise was purchased for $4 million by Andre Desmarais, co-CEO of Power Corporation. One source with knowledge of such matters said the deal was north of $20 million, and could perhaps be as high as $25 million. All of which means Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, who purchased the Beauport Harfangs franchise for $2 million in 1997 and moved it to Quebec City, will have a much, much fatter wallet.
This is an intriguing deal on several fronts, not the least of which is what it means to Quebecor’s attempts to get either an expansion or existing franchise in its new arena, which is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2015. The $400 million, 18,000 seat arena is a public-private effort with an heavy emphasis on the public. Quebecor is paying $33 million for the naming rights and it’s expected the Remparts will move into the new digs and keep them warm in the anticipation of getting an NHL team.
Make no mistake, though, owning the Remparts is good business even without an NHL team. The Remparts draw an average of about 10,000 to the Pepsi Colisee, the former home of the Quebec Nordiques, and will host the Memorial Cup this spring, which should fill the coffers quite nicely. As we all know, costs of running a major junior team are low and when you get the kind of tickets sales and corporate sponsorship the Remparts get, it is a major cash cow.
But you’d have to think there’s more at play here. If those wanting an NHL team can prove to the hockey world that they can come close to filling an NHL arena for junior hockey, it will demonstrate even further that Quebec City is a fertile market for the NHL and it is ready to get its team back.
After all, the strategy worked magnificently for Winnipeg. Despite being home only to an American League team, True North Sports and Entertainment demolished the downtown Winnipeg Arena and replaced it with the 15,000-seat MTS Centre in 2004. And seven years later when the NHL was desperate to find a landing place for the Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg had an NHL-ready arena – albeit a small one by big-league standards – to accept them. Had Quebec City had its arena built by then, perhaps the Thrashers would now be the Nordiques.
Quebecor, which also owns the TVA Group, negotiated a deal with Rogers in which they’ll pay $120 million a year to be the French language broadcaster of the NHL. So with its tentacles spreading throughout the hockey landscape, Quebecor is undoubtedly readying itself for bigger things. Included in the new rink is a lavish television studio for TVA, which would give the network the ability to be up and running as a broadcaster if an NHL team comes to town.
Regardless, it looks as though there will be hockey in the new Quebec City arena the day it opens. It might not be exactly what the patrons are seeking, but they’re willing to be patient.