by Mike Chen on 02/11/09 at 05:18 PM ET
It’s really easy to dump on low attendance numbers in non-traditional markets. I try to refrain from doing that too much because prolonged winning and a strong grass-roots program can help build things for generations to come. Look at the number of youth hockey and minor league teams in Texas as a good example.
Nothing kills attendance more than losing. That’s a simple fact in any sport, and though I’ve wondered about the viability of the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes just like everyone else did, I try to hold off from judging until they actually have a good product on the ice. Let’s not forget that plenty of “strong” markets have ugly attendance figures when teams go sour for a number of years. Yes, this can happen even in Canada.
Florida’s been an interesting beast to watch this season. In some ways, they remind me of the 2003-04 Sharks—a team that stunk up the first few months of the season as they tried to find an identity with a mixed-bag roster before finally clicking and hitting a real groove. I haven’t caught too many Panther games this season but I watched the tail end of their comeback victory against Toronto.
For one thing, the building looked a little more full (though not totally full) than previous times I’ve seen Panther games. They’re building a good buzz around the league, so I’m guessing that that’s trickling down into the actual local market. However, what surprised me was how loud and energetic the fans were. Sure, it’s probably packed with a little extra emotion due to the see-saw nature of coming from three goals down, but it showed to me that maybe the Panthers actually have something to build on there.
Maybe the people that constantly bought tickets during the Rat Trick days and the Pavel Bure era are willing to give this new team a try. Maybe their strong play has finally gotten noticed, or maybe people are just starting to come on the bandwagon. I’m not sure what the formula is but it seems like the people are noticing and they’re into it.
Is it possible for the Panthers to establish themselves in the marketplace similar to neighboring Tampa Bay? I’ve always said that you can judge a poor market by bad attendance numbers when a team is winning so we’re coming into a definitive time for the Florida Panthers. They’ve seemingly turned the corner, now we’ll see if both the team and market can sustain it.
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