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Weak Fan Support A Major Issue

from Tony Keller of the Edmonton Journal,

Over the past decade, the NHL has become a two-speed league. A small number of teams are making a lot of money -led by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks. But on the other side of the divide, and the other side of the border, is a long list of teams generating revenues far below the league average: the Phoenix Coyotes, who will be on a moving truck the minute the city of Glendale stops handing over $25-million cheques, are the leaders of the pack. They’re joined by a growing tally of perennial money losers, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Nashville Predators, the Florida Panthers and the team that is on the verge of moving to Winnipeg, the Atlanta Thrashers.

The NHL’s failing teams, all of them American and almost all in the Sunbelt, suffer from a very simple problem: they don’t have enough fans. And the few fans they have will only show up if ticket prices remain low. This matters because the NHL is an attendance business; the name of the game is putting bums in seats. NHL teams earn almost all of their revenues in their home arena.

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J.J. from Kansas's avatar

And the other thing, J.J. is that I think the league has pursued those things - the big TV contract and the big southern market - to its own detriment. Has the situation in Phoenix hurt the league? Have the other unstable franchises hurt the league? Have low TV ratings for many of those clubs hurt the league? If the league had gone about its southern expansion differently - and I have always said this - I would have supported it. If they had added one or two teams in, like, 1992 and then *waited 10 years until those were totally stable before adding more*, I could have gotten on board with it. But that’s not how it went and now some of those teams are dragging the league down.

Posted by dzuunmod on 05/26/11 at 12:14 PM ET

I agree that they should have taken the Southern Expansion a bit slower than they did, to really allow those markets to gather footholds.  Ultimately, I think the on-ice product is still good though.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 05/26/11 at 02:24 PM ET

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I think that quite a few Americans can understand it - maybe not as strongly, but at least empathize with the feeling.  I’m not a fan of professional basketball, but watching the U.S. “Dream Teams” get their asses handed to them at their own game in the Olympics was kind of a weird and terrifying thought for many Americans.  Hell, even though it was ridiculous satire, the plot of Talladega Nights where a European comes in to dominate stock car racing being a major plot point wasn’t far off what I think would happen in that real-life situation.

I promise I’m not just saying this to be all, “No you don’t!”, but I do think it’s very different up here for several reasons. First - even if your basketball team fails, Americans still have, like, half of the other sports in the Olympics to fall back on. And football. And baseball. And NASCAR. And Hollywood. And Wall Street. And mom’s apple pie cooling on the window sill. For Canadians, hockey isn’t just about sport, it’s about *Canada*. And that’s silly - I know it is - but that’s how it is. We don’t have all that many things that differentiate us from you, but hockey definitely does. So yeah, a lot of people up here take it as an affront against the country when someone moves in on the sport.

Posted by dzuunmod on 05/26/11 at 02:47 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Posted by dzuunmod on 05/26/11 at 12:47 PM ET

Well-said.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 05/26/11 at 02:49 PM ET

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So yeah, a lot of people up here take it as an affront against the country when someone moves in on the sport.

I don’t doubt this at all. Those of us who have played and loved hockey our entire lives get it too. What we don’t understand is how we can be denigrated by those that profess to love the game. If you love hockey you want it to grow, succeed, expand and be loved by others. What I think we get instead is this is about Canada, not hockey. If that is the issue, it will be us versus them and we can also play that game. Actually that is one thing the US is very good at, probably better than Canada ever will be.

Posted by timbits on 05/26/11 at 03:10 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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