Since 2006, the Toronto Maple Leafs have topped Forbes’ list of highest valued NHL franchises. They have been dethroned as of 2015, but have undoubtedly put their stamp on the hockey world as a pioneer of financial success. When it comes to the prosperity of an NHL franchise one has to consider both the on-ice success as well as the financial success. Put two and two together and you have a recipe for determining a great franchise.
One would think on-ice success would equate to financial success and — in the case of most teams in sports — that is true. Take the Atlanta Thrashers for example. This was a team that was so poor on the ice that one couldn’t give away tickets if they tried. In an effort to garner more fans in the area, the franchise began signing every black NHLer they could and became only the 2nd team in NHL history to sport a team with five black players. It was clearly the sign of a desperate franchise that soon was sold and re-located to the much more hockey appreciative city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
But I digress, this is the formula for most businesses. If you cannot sell your product, then you simply go out of business. Why can’t NHL teams sell their product? Because the team sucks!
As an avid Leaf fan that was born and raised in Downtown Toronto, I’d say Leaf fans are more accustomed to disappointment than any other fans in hockey. Here are some numbers to chew on:
- The Leafs are currently the third most valued team in hockey, behind only Montreal (#2) and the New York Rangers (#1).
- It was only in March of 2015 that the Leafs 13-year sellout streak came to an end. To put that into perspective, the Leafs had made the playoffs each of the first three years of that sell-out streak, only to qualify just once over the next ten years. Meaning, Leaf fans were selling out for ten years straight (in the process of dominating the Forbes list of highest valued NHL teams for ten years) and the team had only been a playoff team ONCE during that time! That lone playoff appearance was one of the most heartbreaking ever for any team in any sport as the Leafs were up 4-1 with 9:18 left in the third period of Game 7 against the Bruins and lost.
- Toronto has 13 Stanley Cup championships which is the second-most ever.
- But they have the longest current Stanley Cup drought at 49 YEARS
Toronto fans can always talk to their grandparents about what it was like living in a time with things that are so unfathomable to us today like living with no technology, World War II, the lack of women’s rights, ruthless discrimination, and of course the Toronto Maple Leafs hoisting a Stanley Cup.
Fiction (above) vs. reality (below)
One could make the argument the Leafs are the most successful franchise in the NHL in the sense that they have made more money than any other team in the last ten years. After all, Toronto is the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe despite being one of the worst performing teams over the last ten years. It really doesn’t make logical sense as to why Leaf fans pay so much to see so little still? In terms of fan satisfaction, there is no team in any of the four major sports leagues (NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB) that pays more to see less. In that sense, one could argue Toronto is not only the worst franchise in the NHL (from a fan perspective), but the worst franchise in any NORTH AMERICAN SPORT!
Ticket prices are through the roof, concessions are ridiculously expensive, and the team gets blown out on the reg! What’s the incentive to get better if the doe keeps rollin’ in? It clearly doesn’t matter how bad they are, fans still go to the games. Want to see the team get better? Don’t go to games! That will send a message to the front office.
*UPDATE: Last year’s record-low attendance has already forced Leaf management to hire brand new front-office personnel including Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello, and Mike Babcock. Since then, the Leafs have unloaded all of their big contracts (Kessel, Phaneuf, Clarkson) and begun stockpiling draft picks (currently 12 picks for the 2016 draft) in an attempt to re-build from the ground-up.