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Is Houston Back in the NHL Expansion Picture?

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Photo: Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press

There has been a suggestion now that the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets Leslie Alexander plans to sell his franchise that the door may have opened for a National Hockey League team in town. Apparently, Alexander can block the NHL from using the city owned and funded arena thanks to his lease. The NHL entertained bids from three Houston backers including Alexander in 1997 for an expansion franchise. Houston was rejected. In 1998, Alexander tried to buy the Edmonton Oilers but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman found dozens of local Edmonton investors and the team was prevented from moving. Alexander wanted a new arena in the late 1990s and threatened to move his NBA, WNBA and Arena Football League businesses out of town by 2003.

In 2000, a group of businessmen headed up by Ken Lay, the Chairman of Enron, pushed for an arena vote. Houston voters said yes for an arena and the city gave Alexander a sweetheart lease. In 1997, Robert McNair was interested in teaming with minor league hockey owner Chuck Watson to bring the NHL to Houston. McNair dropped the pursuit of an NHL team after the city was passed over for expansion because of the lack of a suitable arena. McNair ended up getting an National Football League expansion franchise in 1999, the Houston Texans. Alexander did not get along well with Watson and Watson helped lead the charge against a 1999 arena referendum which Houston voters rejected 54 to 46 percent. Houston has been forgotten by the NHL because of Alexander and his refusal to share the building. According to the lease with Houston, Alexander would get the first shot at an NHL team playing in the Houston building. Houston elected officials wrote a bad lease agreement with Alexander perhaps not understanding how sports operates. If Alexander sells the Rockets does the lease get amended? Maybe yes, maybe no.

By Evan Weiner For The Politics Of Sports Business

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.

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