The World Cup of Hockey will be returning. After a ten-year absence, the tournament will officially return in 2016. Per Pierre LeBrun’s report, it’s simply a matter of ironing out the final details of the agreement before making a formal announcement.
Re-instituting the World Cup could mean any number of things with some wondering if it means the league is bracing for a divorce from Olympic participation. Further, the timing of the tournament itself will likely fall prior to the regular season, which should ensure full participation of the world’s best players.
One advantage this tournament gives the league is greater control over the product being produced. Hand-picked venues avoid the time zone constraints created by many Olympic host cities (a primary concern regarding the next two Winter Games). The 2004 event saw games played in Toronto, Montreal, St. Paul, Helsinki, Stockholm, Cologne and Prague. Most of those venues also served the 1996 World Cup.
The 2016 event offers the league and the event’s organizers an chance to showcase another group of cities around the world and I have to wonder if Buffalo earns consideration as a host city.
It’s no secret that Terry Pegula, Ted Black and company have taken many steps to become the league’s darlings. They’ve already earned the adoration of USA Hockey and have likely cemented their place as the favorite for any future US bid for the World Junior Championships. HARBORCENTER will host the next two NHL Draft Combines and I wouldn’t be surprised if First Niagara Center winds up with the 2016 Draft as well. Ownership of the Bills could potentially lead to availability at The Ralph (or a shiny new football stadium) for an outdoor game and future developments for the betterment of the game in Western New York shouldn’t be ruled out.
First Niagara Center and the region as a whole has a phenomenal track record for hosting major sporting events and the addition of HARBORCENTER only strengthens the arena district. The Buffalo region alone is indeed a strong hockey market and tickets for such an event wouldn’t be overlooked. Having Canada’s hockey mad fanbase just across the river means an even broader base of fans that can be pulled in. With an adequate base of hotels (with more being planned and built as we speak) the region could certainly do worse for itself as a potential host. If nothing else, it’s stronger than many other NHL cities.
There are some obvious factors working against Buffalo, of course. One, of course, being the city’s size and cachet. Toronto and Montreal are veritable locks to host games and Vancouver will most certainly be a strong contender as well. Chicago is a massive metropolis with a fanbase that’s been captivated by their team’s recent success. Like Chicago, New York is a huge market with plenty of media attention that also happens to have a team with a recent Cup appearance. Boasting one of the league’s most visible and popular European stars helps the Big Apple as well. Philadelphia and even Washington DC are obvious candidates and even Los Angeles could be considered. Although I think the league would ultimately choose more traditional markets in the end. Another potential choice would be Pittsburgh, a city with a resurgence a few years ahead of where Buffalo is currently heading.
Adding to the case against Buffalo is the fact that the tournament will likely have five or fewer North American venues in use and two of those will certainly be filled by Toronto and Montreal. Chicago almost makes too much sense not to include and competing with New York, Philadelphia and even LA would see Buffalo fighting up a weight class or two.
That still doesn’t mean that Buffalo doesn’t deserve some sort of consideration for the league. Even if it’s simply accepting Buffalo’s bid and touring the region and facilities as a courtesy to the team – perhaps even as a concession for future league events – I don’t think the league can simply push Buffalo to the scrap heap.
The combined success of the Winter Classic, repeated NCAA Tournaments, the Frozen Four, World Junior Championships and the soon to come Scouting Combine shows that Buffalo isn’t just well-oiled for these events but that we have the attention of the people in charge. Putting us in the conversation alone wouldn’t just justify the strength of the hockey market but it would also justify the growing resurgence in downtown Buffalo, something that can be built upon with future events.
Ultimately the World Cup of Hockey will wind up at Madison Square Garden, Air Canada Centre, Bell Centre and the United Center. The league will need to capitalize on its biggest media markets for the games played in North America. Even when you add up everything that plays in Buffalo’s favor, the region probably isn’t any more than a strong secondary option when considering venues for the World Cup of Hockey.
Despite the highly unlikely chance that Buffalo gets serious consideration, I wouldn’t be surprised if we receive a cursory glance. If that glance leads to events like the Draft, All Star Game and another outdoor game, it will be well worth being passed over.