With the struggles that every low-pro hockey league seems to have, there is always talk from fans of any league about possible mergers.
Almost weekly, someone in the FHL/SPHL world brings up merging the two leagues, and honestly, that makes no sense because aside from Carolina (and possibly Elmira), nobody else in the FHL has the arena capacity, fan base, or budget to be able to make a move up to the SPHL.
But what about LNAH? This is one that on the surface could work, and a question about merging the two leagues as posed to us on Twitter the other day, leading us to wonder if a merger between two similar low-pro leagues would work.
@BusLeagueHockey curious with the lnah taking a hit and the FHL trying to be more legit could you see any possibility of a merger? I believe from my understandings the talent level is on par. It’s a long shot i know.
— Krak Rex (@TheKrakRex) November 15, 2018
At first glance, if you didn’t start digging at all, it could work, both leagues usually have around six teams, draw anywhere from 650 fans up to 2,200 fans, and operate on roughly the same type of budget.
So yes, if you were hoping to merge the two leagues together, the optics sort of seem to fit and could possibly be a match that helps both teams. For both leagues, it would mean more stable teams and more opponents to play against, while also giving each league a more legit footprint in other countries, so more players to try to draw from.
But that’s about where the reasons why this could work end, and where a TON of questions about the logistics that go into making a team or league work come into play.
LNAH is a league that basically never leaves the greater Quebec area, even trips to Berlin were only a couple of hours outside the city. While the closest team if a FHL merger happened would be roughly four hours away in Watertown. Trips to Winston-Salem and Danville would be 14 and 15 hours respectively. Elmira would be fairly close at 6-plus hours, but Mentor and Port Huron would clock in at around nine hours.
FHL teams are used to this travel and have it built into their budgets, but LNAH teams save a TON of money because of the lack of travel in the league. They play a game, home or away, and are sleeping in their beds that night. Very rarely would they need hotels in LNAH, and now, suddenly their travel budget is through the roof, both for buses, hotels, and food.
It would be a logistical nightmare, more for the LNAH teams than the FHL, but it would still be added expenses for teams in the FHL to have to make that trek a few times a year.
The first thing that would need to be sorted out is schedule.
The FHL plays a 58-game regular season this year, while LNAH only plays 36 games. Who wins out in this situation? Obviously, hockey fans would want the 56-game schedule, because that’s 20 more games to pay attention to over the course of the season, and 10 more home games for you to attended and cheer on your team in-person.
But there’s a reason LNAH has only 36 games. The players are paid more than the FHL so it’s fewer games and weeks where you are paying salaries, and by only having 36 games, you cut down you on the number of games, practices, and hours you need to pay for while renting out the rink.
You could do a situation where you split the difference and play something like 46 or 48 games, but then you have FHL fans complaining they lost out on 10 games and at least five home games, not a winning situation for them.
And then LNAH teams would likely complain because they need to pay for more ice time, and more travel for those additional 10 games, plus the additional player salaries they would need to fork out during that time.
And that brings us to the biggest issue that would come up during all of this:
Money, in TONS of ways
Keep in mind that before we even get rolling on all the money issues, you’re trying to merge two leagues that have razor-thin profit margins, and then suddenly teams are trying to match budgets and salaries with two different currency types
But beyond Canadian vs. American dollars, let’s start with one that would be the biggest mess to sort out, and would create all sorts of arguments between players and team owners on both side: Player pay.
The FHL pays its players a weekly salary, with around $150 a week being the league minimum, and teams having a salary cap of about $4,400 a week, or, a player average of $244 a week if a team played to the max salary cap each week, not likely in the FHL. While LNAH players are paid on a per game basis, and teams have a salary cap of up to $6,800 PER GAME, or around $350 per player, per game if a team played each game to the salary cap max.
So much like the schedule, there would be tons of arguments about which league’s pay structure you would adopt. You know the owners would fight HARD for the FHL model, because on a given weekend, the FHL would be paying its up to three times less than LNAH. Meanwhile, the players would be clamoring for the LNAH pay model to have more stability and get better value for their services, and making it more worth their while to get the hell beat out of them for 36-plus games a year.
Then thee’s what happens if you choose one over the other: Take the FHL model and you save a TON of money over the course of the season, which would be needed with the added travel to LNAH towns, but the LNAH teams are likely getting worse players because you’re suddenly telling the players they’re taking up to a 75% percent pay cut on a nightly basis, AND having to take that pay cut while potentially playing more games.
But if you take the LNAH model, you may get better players in the FHL, but then your expenses are through the roof, and you’re operating on an SPHL-like budget, which most teams in the FHL simply cannot afford, resulting in likely losing at least four teams from the FHL.
Or, if you want this at season-long numbers, a FHL team at max salary each week would spend $114k on player salaries alone, while a LNAH team playing at max salary each game would cost nearly $250k in salaries, even with the shorter season. But remember, FHL has WAY more travel expenses than the LNAH, so LNAH can afford to pay more.
OK, but could you make this work?
Let’s try, and we’ll call this the FHL-LNAH Compromise League, or the HLC, Hockey League of Compromise, and try to get each league and its teams satisfied.
As far as schedule, let’s shoot for the middle between 36 and 56 games, and say we are aiming for a 48-game schedule, 24 at home, 24 on the road over a roughly 22-week season. How those games would be split up between let’s say a 10-team league, five from each league, is beyond me. Maybe you play a home and away 2-game series against each team in the league, which would be 36 games. Then your remaining 12 games against only your former FHL or LNAH teams, or whatever six teams are closest. This way you see way more teams than just the same five over and over again.
This schedule also give fans in LNAH towns more home games, but not a TON more, and gives the FHL a shorter season to cut back on practices and games for a more affordable lease.
As for pay, let’s try to keep it closer to the FHL model, but we do need to bump it up to try and draw in better players, and since we’re playing fewer games, we can afford to do this.
Let’s say we go with that LNAH model of a $6,800 salary cap, but instead of per game, it’s per week. $6,800 divided among 18 players means average pay is around $378 a week per player, if a team maxes its cap space. A team playing a full season at the max salary cap would spend just under $150k on player salaries a season, a roughly $35k increase for FHL teams, but again, better players are coming in on that salary and they are paying less for leases because of less time needed for practices and games, and a savings because they have less road trips to pay for, so things come out about the same. With this, FHL teams may need to bump up ticket prices, but not more than $1-2 a game, and with better players, it will be worth it.
For LNAH it would be a $100k decrease in salary expenses, but they would have added travel expenses and more rink time to pay for. So again, were pretty close to even here overall. Their ticket prices would likely stay the same since expenses are about the same, but they now have more home games to make up the difference.
And honestly, that’s the only way I could see something like this working, but even then, I don’t see it happening for a myriad of other reasons that would have to get worked out as well, most of which I can’t even think of right now.
But, if you wanted something that sort of merges both leagues or at least exposes them to each other, maybe you have an end-of-season series pitting the two champions against each other in a best-of-5 series, or put together a pair of all-star teams from each league and play a best-of-5 challenge series.