NHL to add teams in Miami, Anaheim Huizenga, Disney high-profile owners

December 11, 1992|By Joe Lapointe | Joe Lapointe,New York Times News Service

PALM BEACH, FLA — PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The NHL voted unanimously yesterda to expand to Miami and Anaheim, Calif., a bold move for a sport that only months ago was in such disarray that its players went on strike for the first time and its longtime president was forced to resign.

At an upbeat news conference that featured a podium decorated with stuffed dolls of Mickey Mouse holding a videotape of hockey highlights, the new and high-profile owners were introduced.

The Anaheim team will be owned by the Walt Disney Co., which operates amusement parks and movie studios. Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of Disney, wore a green, purple and yellow hockey jersey based on "The Mighty Ducks," a current movie his company made about a children's hockey team. He wore a red hat that said"Coach Goofy."

"Our company has been involved with hockey through Goofy and cartoons," he said. "We made a movie called 'The Mighty Ducks.' It did $50 million box office. That was our market research."

The Miami team will be owned by Wayne Huizenga, chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., which rents movie videotapes. He also owns the new Florida Marlins baseball team and part of the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.

The two franchises, which will increase the number of NHL franchises to 26, must pay the league $50 million entrance fees. If negotiations proceed rapidly, the new franchises could begin play as soon as next season.

Yesterday's decision resulted in the temporary tabling of two other major issues being debated by the owners in their weeklong convention here. Today and tomorrow, they are expected to name a new chief executive and decide whether to allow their players to participate in the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Huizenga and Eisner sat alongside NHL president Gil Stein, and Bruce McNall, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings and the chairman of the league's Board of Governors.

"There are lots of Canadians living here," Huizenga said of the potential hockey fans in South Florida, "and a lot come down to get out of the snow."

McNall made a major cash coup in the expansion vote. Because Anaheim is within his team's territory, the Kings will take half the Anaheim entry fee, McNall said.

Although the Miami team will share Florida with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which began play this season, their territories are not considered to be overlapping and the Lightning will get no indemnification payment. But because Tampa Bay does have an exclusive television franchise for Florida, Stein and Lightning Gov. David LeFevre said Miami may have to pay Tampa Bay for sharing television rights.

NHL officials said the new teams will be natural geographic rivals for existing teams in their states the Kings and San Jose Sharks in California and the Lightning in Florida. It hasn't been determined which divisions the expansion teams will join.

Huizenga said his team may play at the Miami Arena, home of the National Basketball Association Heat, until a new arena is built. Eisner said the Disney team may play at a new arena in Anaheim that is expected to be completed next June.

Stein said that if the new teams don't begin play next autumn, they will start in the 1994-95 season.

The addition of these teams continues a remarkable period of growth for the league, which contained 21 teams from 1979 through 1991. The San Jose Sharks began play last season, followed by the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay this season. Under a plan of expansion set up in December of 1989, the NHL hopes to add two more teams by the year 2000.

Stein said the expansion into major population centers makes the league's "footprint" more attractive for television networks.

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