Lamar Hunt Jr. talks future of KC as possible NHL expansion market

Posted at 6:42 PM, Sep 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-29 06:57:16-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City could potentially be home to an NHL expansion franchise in the future, but it will take time and plenty of money, according to Lamar Hunt Jr.
Hunt, a member of the Chiefs ownership family, and serves as the owner of the Kansas City Mavericks. 
From a young age, he has loved the sport of hockey.
“The first NHL game I saw was in 1976 in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of all sports but hockey is near and dear to my heart too, obviously."
Hunt recalled watching the Dallas Black Hawks, an old Central Hockey League affiliate for the Chicago Blackhawks, back when he was a boy.
His love for hockey continued to grow when in 2015, he bought the then-Missouri Mavericks.
In an exclusive interview with 41 Action News on Thursday, Hunt discussed the possibility of Kansas City once again being home to an NHL franchise in the future.
The city was once the host of the Kansas City Scouts, a team that struggled mightily on the ice and suffered from poor attendance at Kemper Arena in the mid-1970s.
Decades later, Hunt said the metro area has made strides growing hockey.
Sprint Center continues to attract large crowds for events downtown, including the annual preseason Blues game that was held Thursday night.
Large groups of fans filled the arena, many with the colors of their favorite hockey teams.
The Kansas City Mavericks, now an ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, also continue to hold a presence in the metro area sports scene.
“We do really well with sponsorships, attendance, season tickets, all those different things,” Hunt explained. “It shows there's an appetite for the sport here."
The quest for an expansion team in Kansas City does have a set of challenges ahead, including a heavy price tag for any prospective ownership team.
Owners of the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin their NHL run this fall, paid around $500 million in expansion fees to join the league.
Hunt knows that money alone could serve as a big hurdle to attracting a team here.
“You'd have to ponder it very carefully if you want to make that type of investment into this community for the NHL,” he told 41 Action News. “You want to make sure that you're operating some profit so that you're not feeding it."
Hunt added that getting a lucrative TV deal to show the hockey team in the area would be crucial.
Adding to the challenges is a market already home to the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting KC, and a number of notable entertainment districts.
“Your average ticket price would be fairly substantial, which I think could cause some stresses here in KC because we already have the Chiefs and the Royals,” Hunt said.
Youth hockey programs are one area Hunt continues to focus on here in the metro.
Plans for a junior hockey arena have taken shape in Overland Park, with the hopes of it hosting a junior hockey team by as early as 2019.
Hunt also serves as an executive board member for the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association, which was formed in 2015.
Moving forward, Hunt said growing the game of hockey in Kansas City could be key for attracting an NHL franchise to the area.
“Our analysis kept showing that we got to grow the number of skaters here and we've done the last couple of seasons by 10-12 percent,” he explained. “When a family invests in hockey, they're all in because it's traveling and it's all sorts of things."
After reaching out to the National Hockey League offices for this story, a statement was obtained from Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
"Kansas City has never been entirely off our radar screen,” Daly wrote in the statement. “We have talked to potentially interested stakeholders in the past, and it's certainly a market that in the right circumstances (including a desire by our board to entertain further expansion), our league would fairly evaluate and consider.”
Daly wrote that Sprint Center helped the metro area’s chances, but other factors needed to be addressed.
“In evaluating potential locations for NHL teams, we typically look at three things: One, whether the market has or is building a suitable arena facility; two, the demographics of the market and whether they suggest an ability to support an NHL franchise; and, three, whether there is qualified and interested ownership to own and operate the franchise,” Daly wrote. “While the Sprint Center certainly checks off the first of those boxes, the other two issues remain a work in progress.”
During the search for a new expansion team two years ago, Daly wrote that no interest came in from the metro area.
“We opened a formal expansion process in June of 2015 and we did not receive an application for a Kansas City franchise,” he explained. “Further, we have never studied whether the market demographics of Kansas City are likely to be suitable for an NHL franchise long-term because there has not yet been a need to do so."
It is unknown if or when the NHL, currently unbalanced with 31 teams, will call for another expansion team.

Seattle, Washington and Quebec, Canada remain as two of the most popular rumored cities for a future NHL franchise.