The Columbus Blue Jackets could leave central Ohio if the team can’t fix an economic model that is causing losses of $12 million a year, according to a report issued today by the Columbus Chamber. But a deal to keep the hockey team here and the Arena District alive — the team and the district generated $30 million in taxes last year — probably will include asking for public dollars, and soon.
“We believe there is a sense of urgency here,” said Ty D. Marsh, chamber president and CEO. “We’re looking for a solution or progress by the end of the year.”
This is a situation that’s been building for a while. I’d actually be shocked if the Blue Jackets have made much of a profit in any year since the prelockout days, when the payroll was very low and interest was at its peak.
Historically, their attendance has been decent, too, at least prior to the lockout, but because a private company built the building, Columbus pays significant rent (about $3.5-million annually), receives no arena perks and ticket prices remain fairly low. The one game I’ve seen there, I sat right behind the bench for $80, tickets that were widely available.
Even with the league’s new revenue sharing system, the Jackets just aren’t all that close to turning a profit:
If the Blue Jackets had free rent and arena-naming rights, the hockey operations would basically be breaking even, but the other business of booking concerts and events would still lose about $4 million a year.
And contrary to what’s been written elsewhere, these are financial issues that are not merely solved by winning hockey games. The gap is just too large and the markets involved too small. Even if the Blue Jackets sold another 2,500 tickets a game and went on a run to the second round of the playoffs, they would still be in the red.
Teams like Columbus and Nashville are in tough to compete in a league with a payroll of more than $35- or $40-million and probably always will be.