Bulls and Bears of the sports market

Opinion: Bull and Bears: NCAA basketball and pro wrestling had big wins this week.

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Bulls of the Week

After a remarkable first two weeks, there is considerable energy around April being the best month of the year in North American pro sports.

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The case began with a game-changing NCAA Women’s Final Four and a record-setting basketball championship final TV audience of 18.9 million Americans. That South Carolina-Iowa finale was the most-watched basketball game in five years, eclipsing the Toronto Raptors’ Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.

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Meanwhile, the 40th instalment of WrestleMania set a gate record that was up 78 per cent year-over-year, and The Masters began the golf year in earnest.

Next in line this month: the shoulder-to-shoulder NHL and NBA playoffs and the NFL Draft.

Bears of the Week

You have to feel for the Buffalo Sabres’ fan base. They’re not only one of 11 NHL franchises to never win a Stanley Cup, they’re now co-holders of the dubious distinction of having the longest playoff drought in North American pro sports.

The Sabres, founded in the same NHL expansion year as the Vancouver Canucks in 1970, have now missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive years. That’s almost another generation of young Sabres fans that have been on the outside looking in, along with fans of the New York Jets of the NFL, who are also pining for their first playoff berth since 2011.

Yet with regional TV numbers in the top 10 of the NHL and consistently top three among the league’s U.S. teams, at least they’re secure in their market, unlike the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes have been the NHL’s sport business soap opera for more than 15 years, with their relocation index only growing in recent months without a long-term arena plan and nothing more — even in the short-term — than an embarrassingly small 5,000-seat varsity complex at Arizona State University.

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Just when it seemed that the Coyotes might have had some real hope with a good location identified in the prime snowbird landing areas in northeast Phoenix and Scottsdale, it appears the desert dogs are poised to relocate to Salt Lake City even before that 110-acre Phoenix plot gets to an auction sale in June.

With the mayor of Scottsdale, David Ortega, seemingly representing the latest thorn in the side of embattled Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo — with the mayor this week voicing strong opposition to the hockey-led mixed use development across the street at Scottsdale Road — it’s clear that the NHL has quickly become more focused on giving the Coyotes a new lease on life at the Delta Center in the Olympic city of Salt Lake.

The Delta Center can currently only seat 14,000 for hockey, but that’s a tradeoff that the NHL appears willing to take given that the owner-in-waiting in Salt Lake City is Utah Jazz owner and software billionaire Ryan Smith, the CEO of Qualtrics.

Smith, who is also a co-owner of Real Salt Lake FC of MLS, is already part of the NHL business tent as the CEO of Qualtrics, which does considerable fan experience survey work for the league and its member franchises.

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The moment Smith began asking that survey question — what should the name be for an NHL franchise in Salt Lake City? — you just knew where the NHL was headed.

Tom Mayenknecht is the host of The Sport Market on Sportsnet 650 on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Vancouver-based sport business commentator and principal in Emblematica Brand Builders provides a behind-the-scenes look at the sport business stories that matter most to fans. Follow Mayenknecht at:

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