U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York sent a personal letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday expressing their opposition to the Phoenix Coyotes relocating to Southern Ontario.
BlackBerry magnate Jim Balsillie is trying to buy the Coyotes from Jerry Moyes for a reported $212.5 billion on the pretense that he could then move the franchise to Hamilton, Ont., which is 45 miles from Buffalo.
The senators believe relocating the Coyotes to an area so close to Buffalo would threaten the viability of the Sabres by reducing their fan base and revenue. The Sabres receive approximately 15-20 percent of their revenue from fans that live between Hamilton and Buffalo.
Schumer and Gillibrand noted that it is in the NHL's best interest to maintain strong, viable teams, and allowing the Coyotes to move at the expense of the Sabres makes no sense.
"The Sabres are part of the fabric of life for border communities in Western New York and Southern Ontario," the senators said jointly. "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."
Current NHL rules would prevent the Coyotes from being relocated 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.
In a press release, the senators wrote that "Balsillie is currently trying to circumvent those rules as part of the Coyotes' 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 argue that the Sabres' continued success is critical to Buffalo, Rochester and the whole border region -- and important to the league as a whole.
The press release states "the Sabres are an institution in the City of Buffalo, and their fan base reaches throughout the Western New York region and Southern Ontario. 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."
Here is a full copy of the letter the senators sent to Bettman:
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 30. 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 30 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, United States Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, United States Senator