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December 16, 2017

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Hockey:

No NHL expansion yet, but Bettman has fee in mind: $500 million

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AP Photo/Nick Wass

In this Feb. 25, 2015, file photo, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters before an NHL hockey game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals in Washington. The NHL has yet to decide on expansion, but Bettman says $500 million is a reasonable fee.

NEW YORK — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman might not yet have anything definitive to say about expansion, though he does have a fee in mind.

How's $500 million sound?

Without committing to what the price might be, Bettman told a meeting of Associated Press Sports Editors on Friday that he considers a half-billion dollars to be a reasonable figure.

"From your question, you seem to be inferring that would be a lot of money for an NHL team," Bettman said, when the $500 million figure was posed to him. "I happen to believe that number — not that I'm confirming or denying it — would be not a lot of money. I think NHL franchises should be worth at least that."

That would be a significant increase from the $80 million price tag Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota each paid the last time the NHL expanded in the 1990s.

Bettman cautioned the fee will be determined by the league's Board of Governors, and the time for that discussion has not yet arrived.

"There might be expansion at some point in the future," Bettman said. "It's possible, but I wouldn't guarantee it."

Expansion continues to be a hot topic for the 30-team league, which has groups in Las Vegas and Seattle expressing interest in potential franchises.

In Nevada, Bill Foley has established a company, Hockey Vision Las Vegas LLC, and was granted league approval to launch a season-ticket drive in February to gauge how much interest there might be for hockey in the desert. Foley set an objective of getting at least 10,000 full-season deposits.

Foley is expected to provide Bettman a ticket-drive update before league governors meet in June.

A new arena is already being built in Las Vegas without the guarantee of a franchise.

That's a big step ahead of Seattle, where there's interest but no plans yet for a facility.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has met with Bettman to express interest in a franchise. Without revealing who, Bettman said he's been approached by groups expressing interest in establishing a team in the Seattle suburbs of Tukwila or Bellevue.

"We believe there are substantial people interested in owning a franchise there, and I'm not surprised," Bettman said. "I think it would be a great market for NHL hockey, but there's a threshold issue which relates to the arena."

The values of professional sports franchises are rising. The NBA's Los Angeles Clippers sold for a record $2 billion last year. NHL Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula set an NFL record in October, when they bought the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion.

The price of NHL teams is following the rising trend.

Two years ago, Vincent Viola paid $250 million to buy the small-market and struggling Florida Panthers. That's more than the $189 million the Pegulas paid to buy the Sabres — a far more stable small-market franchise — in 2011.

Forbes currently lists 11 NHL team valued at $500 million or more.

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