As I’m sitting down watching more Olympic Hockey, I can’t help but make comparisons to the NHL and it’s product.
8 ½ million people watched Sunday night’s telecast of USA-Canada on MSNBC. It was the most watched show on the network ever. That doesn’t surprise me; there simply aren’t that many raging liberals that watch the type of product the network produces. That’s not even really a joke it’s just a pseudo-fact. So it tells me that there are fans out there that want to watch the product.
Like everything in our society, over-expansion in the last 15 years really hurt the games product. Once Wayne Gretzky led the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring of 1993, The NHL was the hottest sport in America .
Hockey had already left the Twin Cities and moved to Dallas. Soon after teams left Quebec City, Hartford, and Winnipeg, Manitoba for Denver, North Carolina, and Phoenix. Expansion teams were popping up in San Jose, Anaheim, Tampa, Miami, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus, and back to the Cities. Unquestionably hockey has been a success in Minnesota, San Jose, and Denver. Tampa, Anaheim (twice), Dallas, and Carolina have all won the Stanley Cup. The Florida Panthers made the finals, Nashville has been very competitive the past few years while Columbus, Phoenix, and Atlanta have been generally mediocre or down right crappy.
For the record, I have been to three games in Tampa Bay and one in Atlanta.
I could turn this into a socio-economic thesis paper for a Sports-Buisness Master’s program but I’m not going to do that. The fact remains over-expansion has hurt the league more than it’s helped.
So while watching these Olympics we see some subtle and overt changes to the game of hockey that only helps. Certainly I realize that the games can’t be compared completely since these Olympic teams are glorified All-Star squads, but you can only make teams better by doing one thing.
No I’m not Bud Selig but to battle some of these lame duck teams, franchises and fan bases you just have to get rid of them.
Take a look at the bottom-10 teams in attendance average. (Capacity percentage in parenthesis.)
20. Columbus- 15,318 (84.5)
21. Florida- 15,127 (78.6)
22. Anaheim- 15,047 (87.6)
23. Tampa- 14,996 (75.9)
24. New Jersey- 14,972 (85)
25. Carolina- 14,694 (78.5)
26. Nashville- 14,558 (85.1)
27. Colorado- 13,610 (75.6)
28. Atlanta- 13,203 (71.2)
29. New York (Islanders)- 12,500 (76.7)
30. Phoenix- 11,178 (63.9)
Some of those numbers are outrageous. Warm weather/Expansion teams account for eight out of the ten. And we all know that attendance numbers are naturally inflated anyways. However, some of these numbers can be completely explained in my mind. This isn't Indoor Lacrosse, WWE Raw, or the Bull Riders Tour. This is the NHL!
I'd like to point out
A. New Jersey and Atlanta are naturally terrible sports areas. The Hawks-Wolves game tonight in the ATL was half-full and the Hawks are one of the best teams in Basketball! As well as the fact the Braves had trouble selling tickets to playoff games during the height of the Maddox-Glavine-Jones era. New Jersey on the other hand...look- if you live in that toilet of a state you’d just root for the Rangers anyways. Another location that couldn’t sell out playoff games for the Devils. It has to be noted that these are two areas that are directly affected by our economy.
B. Colorado fans, despite the Avalanche being yet again a top team in Hockey, weren’t expecting quite as good of a season from a very young hockey team this year. Couple the fact the team doesn’t have superstar players like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Patrick Roy anymore. The Nuggets are the hot ticket in town. Pure and simple.
C. The New York Islanders play in an archaic arena on Long Island, It’s literally been 25+ years since they’ve been in the title hunt, and they still have to pay a premium to attend games because of its location. All indications are club Owner Charles Wang is close to a remodeling of the team’s home arena to help bring in a new era of hockey.
But the others teams…well the economy is certainly in play but the situation in some of these places is a joke. Currently the NHL owns the Phoenix Coyotes a la MLB and the Montreal Expos, Columbus has lost reportedly $80 million in the last seven years because of its bogus arena lease, The Sports Business Journal recently reported the NHL has advanced the Lightning "club revenue-sharing money for the '09-10 season," which is the second advance the team has received, having also gotten $2 million from Sun Sports (South Florida’s sports network and Lighting rights holder) to help make payroll last April. Think about that: The team's television partner needed to kick the Bolts dough to ensure their player’s checks wouldn't bounce.
So contraction isn’t only necessary, it’s a no-brainer.
Tomorrow- More nerdy, in-depth hockey talk and a few ideas. Feel free to comment below, bookmark the site, and spread the word about the blog!