by Lisa McRitchie on 03/29/12 at 01:00 PM ET
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has recently put in a bid to acquire an 8th NHL team in Canada. While some immediately brush the idea off, there are many who believe that this could work. None seem to be following this topic as closely as the StarPhoenix. The reason for that is clear once you realize that the StarPhoenix is not an Arizona product, but rather a Saskatoon paper.
Thursday morning, Les MacPherson has penned an article indicating that an NHL club may struggle to fill the local barn:
In a city that aspires to the National Hockey League, I would have expected more than 4,825 patrons the other night at a Saskatoon Blades playoff game.
This is only the best junior hockey in the world. If the Blades can’t draw 5,000 to a playoff game, how is the NHL going to draw 15,000 for 40 nights a year with ticket prices four or five times as high?
I just don’t see it happening, at least not anytime soon.
MacPherson goes on to say:
With only a fraction of the population of other NHL cities, Saskatoon has to compete for a team on the strength of hockey madness. What we lack in population, we supposedly make up for with our disproportionate enthusiasm for the game. The modest crowd at a Blades playoff game would indicate otherwise.
If the Blades attracted as many fans relative to the city’s population as the Medicine Hat Tigers are drawing at home in this series, there would have been 14,000 fans at TCU Place instead of a paltry 4,800. It didn’t help that they sounded more like 480. You normally have to attend a Presbyterian church service to see such an undemonstrative crowd. If this is the global epicentre of hockey enthusiasm, hockey is in serious trouble.
As hard to swallow as those claims may be, they ring true.
While WHL hockey does not have the same level of talent and skill as NHL, the prices for admission are just a small fraction of what you pay for an NHL game in Canada.
At the same time, you can look to Edmonton to see how well attended the WHL and NHL games are. Rexall place is sold out night after night for Oilers games, but in regular season have at times struggled to draw fans. The Oil Kings have taken measures to combat the low numbers including slashing ticket prices by 30% and selling only lower bowl tickets. On top of that, the team has iced the top team in the WHL, regular season at least. Still, the Oil Kings didn’t fill the building until their final home game of the regular season when they packed the house, filling nearly every one of the 16,839 seats.
The claim can be made that Edmonton is not so much a hockey town as it is an Oilers town. Despite the increased cost, people are more interested in NHL than junior hockey.
The Saskatoon Blades’ season is now over, having been swept by Edmonton Oilers’ prospect goaltender Tyler Bunz and the Medicine Hat Tigers, but it will be interesting to see what happens over the summer and even into next season. If the Blades can fill the house, it might be worth revisiting the idea of whether or not they have the numbers to support an NHL team.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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