NHL Expansion

December 10th, 1992: NHL awards franchises to Miami & Anaheim for 1994-95.

With stunning swiftness, the National Hockey League expanded by two teams today, as the Board of Governors awarded franchises to Miami and Anaheim, Calif., and in doing so added two of America’s biggest corporate names — and some of its favorite cartoon characters — to its roster. The teams — as yet unnamed — could begin play as early as next season but no later than the 1994-95 season, depending on the lease arrangements for arenas in each city and the timetable in creating an organization. No deadline was set, but scheduling and an expansion draft will be needed.

Walt Disney Co., famous for its films and theme parks, will own the franchise in Anaheim, also the location of Disneyland. Wayne Huizenga, who founded Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., and owns baseball’s expansion Florida Marlins of the National League, will be the principal owner of the Miami hockey franchise, though he said he will discuss further involvement with the Blockbuster board of directors. Though the papers have not been signed, both agreed to pay a $50 million franchise fee, which will be divided among existing teams. The NHL added the San Jose Sharks for the 1991-92 season, and the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators began play this season. Those teams each paid a $50 million franchise fee.

Two years ago league powers envisioned expanding to 28 teams by the end of the decade, but this step, which brings the league to 26 — came rapidly. Asked if he expected to leave this meeting with two new teams, Washington Capitals owner Abe Pollin said: “No. There were rumors floating around but I didn’t think it would happen that fast.” The discussions have gone on quietly for a few months, but Huizenga said he spoke with the general manager of Miami Arena — where his team is likely to play for several years — only this morning.

“What happened to make it quick is that two big companies expressed an interest,” said Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, chairman of the owners Board of Governors. “I’m a good salesman, and when someone expresses an interest, I’m not letting them off the hook if I can help it, especially a situation of this magnitude.” It was a stunning first day at the Board of Governors’ semi-annual meeting at The Breakers hotel. NHL President Gil Stein and McNall chaired the news conference but it is unclear how much longer Stein will have his title.

It was thought that picking a new leader would be the top item at these meetings (NBA vice president and general counsel Gary Bettman, who is expected to get the top job, was here today), followed by a decision on whether to interrupt the 1993-94 season to allow players to participate in the 1994 Olympics. The governors also will discuss collective bargaining. But the expansion pushed those matters back at least a day.

If the move was quick by NHL standards, it was not for Disney and its chairman and CEO, Michael D. Eisner. “I give a lot of credit to Gil Stein and Bruce,” Eisner said. “They noticed the interest of Wayne Huizenga and Blockbuster, which is a big addition for hockey because of their reach into video stores all over the country. … And I think they saw the halo effect, if you will, of Disney. We notice that around the world — and I didn’t create Disney, so I can say that. But Disney is a family company and if we say that, it helps {the league}. Disney brought the world Mickey Mouse and Goofy through movies and TV, and Eisner wore a jersey from the Disney movie “The Mighty Ducks,” which is about a youth team, and a baseball cap that said “Coach Goofy.”

“We made a movie called ‘The Mighty Ducks,’ which did unbelievably well — that was our market research,” said Eisner, who added the movie was headed for $50 million — a coincidental figure — in box office revenue. For Huizenga it has been a tumultuous week. Wednesday, his friend and Marlins team president Carl Barger, died of a heart attack at the baseball winter meetings. Today, Huizenga agreed to stake a full claim to a second of the four pro franchises in Miami.

“I approached Gil and we met a few times,” Huizenga said of Stein. “Then we met with Bruce in California and that led to a letter being sent to the board requesting a franchise. That was about a month or two ago. Huizenga also owns part of the Miami Dolphins and 50 percent of Joe Robbie Stadium, where the Marlins and Dolphins play. He owns 100 acres near the stadium, which is a potential site for an arena.

If Huizenga was all smiles, David LeFevre, Tampa Bay’s governor, was more subdued. However, he apparently voted for the decision and insisted that it was good for his franchise, though it some of its television market will be cut. “I can’t wait for them to get started,” said Lightning General Manager Phil Esposito, “because we’re going to kick their {butts}.” The 19,000-seat Anaheim Arena is set to open in June and is across the freeway from Anaheim Stadium.

Because Eisner is moving into McNall’s area, McNall will get half of the franchise fee, with the other 23 owners splitting the other $25. The close neighbor doesn’t bother McNall. “First of all, the whole L.A. area is huge,” he said. “It’s half the population of Canada {26 million}. So I’m not too concerned about the number of people. Secondly, Orange County has a unique flavor, a little bit different than L.A. Number three, it’s Disney. That is such an important element and I’m hoping that brings a lot to the NHL and therefore the Los Angeles Kings.”

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