Friday, November 20, 2009

Canuckle Dragger Alert

From TheHockeyWriter's Twitter feed, I was directed to this piece pleading with the league to move teams out of Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Nashville, Long Island, Columbus, and Phoenix and relocate them in Winnipeg, Quebec City, Seattle, and Hamilton.

Even though it's getting tiresome constantly having to introduce these folks to little things I like to call "logic" and "reason," I replied thusly:

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Paul,

Have you ever been to a game in Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa, or Miami? Attendance is down in Atlanta this year due to chronic losing. However, it is turning around as fans catch on to the exciting on-ice product. Low attendance is a result of not icing a good team, and is not endemic of the market. In Nashville, the town loves their team. Walk into a bar on Broadway any night in a hockey jersey and folks will want to talk Preds. While I haven't personally attended games in Tampa and Miami, I know the stands were full and rocking when their teams were winners. The same could be said for Phoenix back when Tkachuk and Roenick were leading the team to the playoffs on a regular basis.

You could put thirty teams in Canadian towns and attendance numbers would be far better than they currently are across the board. However, the sport would never grow because the thirty-three million people in Canada would be the only ones who ever watched or cared. Maybe that's what you want, but the game is better off with a wider fanbase.

You have a choice there of more fans overall (and more grassroots hockey and thus a wider pool of talent in the future) or fewer fans with a higher percentage actually attending games.

Dallas and Carolina have done great things growing the game in their markets. That's because they had a winning product on the ice for much of the first ten years of their presence. It was easy for them to do so since they were established franchises who moved to a new home. The Panthers, Thrashers, Predators, Lightning, Blue Jackets, and Wild didn't have that advantage. Tampa had great management in the beginning and were able to win a cup in just over 10 years, but have been bottom feeders a couple of years later. The Panthers had a flash in the pan, then have shown ineptitude of monumental proportions since. The Wild were put in a hockey-crazy market and had good management to build a winning franchise quickly. The Jackets and Thrashers have both struggled to put winning products on the ice but have both recently shown signs that patience is paying off, and fanbases are growing accordingly.

Hockey teams belong in markets that can grow the game. I'm all for further expansion to bring the game to KC, Quebec City, and Winnepeg if that will help hockey gain in overall global popularity and will make the game more exciting.

The whole point of expanding into the Southern US was to introduce the game to people who hadn't been exposed to hockey before. As great as our game is, it's not going to win everyone over immediately. That is especially true when those folks are presented with a losing team. Denver was one of the best hockey cities in the world for years after the Nordiques became the Avalanche. Now the arena is a ghost town. Is it because hockey doesn't belong in Colorado? Or is it because people, especially in a recession, only pay for tickets when they think their team is going to leave them feeling good about what they just watched on their way out the door?

10 comments:

Razor Catch Prey said...

If I haven't shared this on the Chronicle yet, it is high time to do so.

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Robert Colquhoun said...

Hey Razor. Rob here, owner of hockeyinsight.com. Appreciate you stopping by and providing us with your thoughtful comments.

Paul Lane's point wasn't to keep hockey in Canada, as he is from New York, but to bring the sport to NHL-ready cities.

There are so many points of view on this matter, and I guess your opinion is that there is no such thing as an NHL ready city, but a good product is really the only solution.

Here's where I respectfully disagree. A real solution allows all 30 teams to be financially viable. Not all 30 teams can be "winning" teams. Even in Phoenix's best days, they were still losing millions. The Toronto Maple Leafs, worst team in hockey, gets the most people to their games and charges the most money per ticket.

Why is this? Toronto is NHL ready. One might say to themselves that it has to do with their history, but I couldn't care less about Johnny Bower. I don't even really care about Wendle Clark - I'm a hockey fan. I grew up playing it, I'll die watching it.

Instead of Bettman forcing a Phoenix franchise and losing $50M from it, he's better off investing in a grass-roots approach to creating an NHL ready city. It does exist.

How does that look like? Minor hockey is expensive - subsidize it for kids all over. In the USA, the most popular professional sport is the sport that costs the least to join as a kid. That's no coincidence.

You can't just drop the best Cricket team in Calgary, and expect Calgary cricket fans to suddenly appear.

Grass roots approach is the only approach. If you didn't grow up playing hockey, you won't pay $150 to watch your NHL team lose. Grow up playing it, and you'll probably watch HNIC every Sat night, even if you live in Mexico.

Mr. Speaker said...

Hey, we're socializing our banking system and soon, healthcare so why not get crackin' on some socialized hockey programs where by the govt subsidizes kids' hockey equipment and ice rental time!! Yeah, that'll work!!

How about some street hockey leagues instead?? Now that would be an "asphalt-roots" campaign for your non-NHL ready city. Whatevs!

Razor Catch Prey said...

Welcome to the Chronicle, Robert!

You've got a great point about the grassroots, and that's an area that the Thrashers in particular have not done a good job with at all. There are a couple of Junior Thrashers teams and youth hockey clinics over the offseason, but my perception is that teams like Dallas have been much more proactive in promoting youth hockey.

Just yesterday I was discussing the issue of how expensive it is to start playing hockey at any age. I would love to get my nephews into the game, but skates alone start at almost fifty dollars per pair and they are going to outgrow that pair in less than a year. Having organizations to subsidize youth hockey would go a long way to helping to spread a love of the game.

You're also right that if you grew up loving the game, you'll be willing to pay to see your team lose. Big Shooter and I here at the Chronicle have been attending Thrasher games for ten years now, despite the record. We didn't grow up playing hockey, but we've loved the game since our first real exposure to it in the 1993 conference finals. The Atlanta Knights IHL team really sparked our love of the game the next season when they made a run and took the Turner Cup. I don't know where we would be now if the Knights had been lousy.

I don't think growing the grassroots first then moving a team in is the only way to go, as you say. I do think that it's probably the best way to do it and make sure that you're going to have good ticket sales from the start. If there are smart folks marketing the game (which Atlanta for one does not have) and building a winner, hockey will flourish in non-traditional markets, it will just be a shallow exponential curve starting from near zero instead of x=y+7.

Mr. Speaker said...

RCP - I gotta think that there are programs by which parents and players donate old and out-grown hockey equipment for youngsters coming up in the local hockey scene. Hockey hand-me-downs if you will. If not, perhaps some of the parents up in Duluth or in Marietta should talk to Daren Eliot about becoming the voice for a charity in which old hockey equipment is collected or donated "goodwill" style and then either sold or given to kids who want to play hockey. As the sport grows, so too does the amount of old, smelly hockey equipment to choose from. But it's better than paying $200 12 times for new skates every time the kid adds a year of development!

Razor Catch Prey said...

Absolutely. I am sure Pop Warner football leagues have a supply of pads and helmets that they just hand down to each group of kids that comes through. We need hockey leagues that are able to do the same thing.

The issue come in when you start thinking about hygiene. Football pads are (I think) mostly plastic and non-absorbent padding. Hockey pads on the other hand are mostly very absorbent cloth and padding. The folks on NHL Home Ice were talking last night about some of the infections you can get from improperly dried hockey equipment.

If kids are going to use hand-me-down hockey equipment, all of it needs to be thoroughly sanitized between users.

Even if equipment costs are kept down, ice time is still very expensive, even now that Atlanta has five facilities and seven (eight?) sheets of ice. And parents still need to be willing to take the time out to bring their kids to the rink. The time and transportation issues exist for the "cheaper" sports as well, but there are more after-school opportunities and leagues for small children at YMCA facilities that have day care available.

Jay said...

Do the Thrashers even have to promote ICE hockey? With the good weather in Georgia, why not street hockey? You're giving the fans the basics of the game at a much cheaper price and you can play it anywhere where there is a flat surface. I've never been on a pair of ice skates in my life, but I used to play street hockey with my friends all the time growing up. We played in parking lots, driveways, wherever. The Thrashers should come up with a program where they literally take it to the streets. I think that could be a successful venture in gaining new, young fans.

scottie2hottie said...

lads! the only thing i find silly is that you are thrasher fans. i prefer to watch hockey.

Jay said...

Must be hard to watch hockey with your head up your ass.

Mortimer Peacock said...

His name IS "scottie2hottie."