May 21, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand: Coyotes In Ontario Would Be Too Close For Comfort; New Hockey Team Would Threaten Future Of Buffalo Sabres

Schumer-Gillibrand Express Their Opposition to Re-Locating Phoenix Coyotes in Sabres' Region

United States Senators Charles E Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, in a personal letter to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, today expressed their opposition to the Phoenix Coyotes professional hockey team's potential move to Hamilton, Ontario – 45 miles away from Buffalo.  The senators contend that locating another hockey team so close to Buffalo would threaten the Sabres by potentially reducing their fan base and reducing their revenue.  
The Sabres receive approximately 15%  to 20% of their revenue from the fans that live between Hamilton, and Buffalo, and to lose access to that market could be crippling.  Schumer and Gillibrand noted that it is in the NHL’s best interest to maintain strong, viable teams, and allowing the Coytes to move at the expense of the Sabres makes no sense.  The Sabres are one of the most vibrant, storied, and loyally followed teams in hockey, and weakening the team through increased local competition will hurt the sport as a whole, according to the senators. 
“The Sabres are part of the fabric of life for border communities in Western New York and Southern Ontario. Locating another team so close to the Sabres would unfairly penalize the franchise and their loyal fans in Western New York, in Rochester and in Southern Ontario, and it must not be allowed to happen.  I commend the NHL for their efforts to enforce league rules regarding the ownership and location of this franchise.   Along with current owner Tom Golisano and the NHL, we worked very hard to keep the Sabres here in Buffalo; they are woven into the fabric of life in this whole region and we must do all we can to see that they continue to prosper and grow.”
“The Buffalo Sabres are synonymous with Western New York,” said Senator Gillibrand.  “Moving a new team to Southern Ontario would not only hurt the Sabres, but would be detrimental to Western New York’s economy and the devoted Buffalo Sabres fans who are so loyal to their beloved team.  The Sabres are crucial to Western New York’s way of life. I am committed to working with Senator Schumer to do everything we can to keep the Sabres successful right here in Buffalo.”
In recent weeks Jim Balsillie has expressed interest in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes from current majority owner Jerry Moyes for $212.5 million on the condition that he be allowed to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario.  Current NHL rules would prevent the team from being located within 50 miles of the Sabres without compensating the Sabres for lost revenue, and without obtaining the agreement of the NHL, and the NHL’s 30 Governors.
Balsillie is currently trying to circumvent those rules as part of the Coyote’s bankruptcy filing in a Phoenix Court, arguing that because the move would be in the best interest of the team’s creditors, it should be allowed to happen.  There is considerable dispute in the legal community as to authority the court has to waive current NHL rules.  
Schumer and Gillibrand argued that the Sabres' continued success is critical to Buffalo, Rochester and the whole border region -- and important to the league as a whole.  The Sabres are an institution in the City of Buffalo, and their fan base reaches throughout the Western New York region and Southern Ontario, Canada.  The City enjoys hosting the 18,690 fans that attend home games in downtown Buffalo, who stop at local stores, restaurants, and hotels along the way.  In a time of economic uncertainty, it is important that cities, like Buffalo, be able to rely on the profitability of their teams. 
Professional hockey’s history is closely entwined with Buffalo.  Home of the "French Connection" and the infamous "Fog Game," Buffalo boasts some of the highest local ratings in the NHL, in addition to some of the highest national ratings in the league.  These are remarkable statistics given the city's relatively modest size compared to other NHL cities.
Schumer and Gillibrand today wrote to Commissioner Bettman, urging him to continue the NHL’s efforts to keep the Coyote’s out of the market currently served by the Sabres, and pledged to help in any way possible.
A full copy of the letter is below
Dear Commissioner Bettman,
We write to express our support for the Buffalo Sabres franchise and to express our opposition to locating a professional team within their regional sphere of influence. We also wish to express our support of the NHL's efforts to protect its rights and enforce league rules regarding the ownership and location of NHL franchises, and we urge the NHL to continue those efforts.  As you know, we strongly believe it is critical that the league protect these rights in order to protect the best interests of the sport, the league's current teams, and their host cities and regions that invest considerable resources in the sport.

Since the NHL originated in 1917 with just six teams, it has steadily grown to its current number of thirty.  This increase is indicative of hockey's growing popularity in the United States and Canada, and I know that your priority as commissioner of the league is to safeguard each of these thirty teams and to grow the sport.  As you have publicly stated in the past, the NHL owes these commitments to its fans.  We thus applaud the NHL's efforts to protect its rights as a joint venture to determine the ownership and location of its teams.  When the Buffalo Sabres faced bankruptcy in 2003, it was protection of those rights that in large part preserved the team's presence in Western New York and has resulted in the team's successes both on and off the ice.
Professional hockey's history is closely entwined with Buffalo.  Home of the "French Connection" and the infamous "Fog Game," Buffalo boasts some of the highest local ratings in the NHL, in addition to some of the highest national ratings in the league. These are remarkable statistics given the city's relatively modest size compared to other NHL cities.  The region's hockey fans are rabid and the local youth leagues are vibrant.  This marquee hockey status was recently recognized when it won the competition to host the prestigious 2011 World Junior Hockey Tournament.  The Sabres franchise and its loyal fan base are important to the history of professional hockey, and, under the ownership of Tom Golisano, we know the Sabres look forward to many more years of making hockey history right here in Buffalo.

We know that you share our desire to ensure the continued viability of the NHL and it member teams, and we pledge to help your efforts in any way possible.  If you have any questions or need further information, please contact our offices at 212-486-4430 (Schumer) or 202-224-4451 (Gillibrand).  We thank you for your continued support of New York's franchises.
Charles E. Schumer                                   Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator                               United States Senator