As a fan of the Atlanta Thrashers, one would think I'd be immune to hearing people bemoan teams in "inappropriate markets." Cities where the average winter high is above freezing are unworthy - unworthy, I tell you! - of a hockey team. The fans? Just a tiny, expendable base who aren't as worthy of being graced by the outstanding sport of hockey as, say, people closer to the Arctic Circle are. Would anyone really notice if hockey left Tampa Bay, Florida, or Atlanta? How about Nashville? Phoenix?
Yep. These people have no clue that they have hockey in Nashville. They're just in line for a Brooks & Dunn concert.
I've always been of the opinion that hell YES people would notice. Maybe not as many as would catch on if the Habs suddenly vaporized, but just because teams in these cities have a lot of other sports to compete with doesn't mean that people don't enjoy these sports.
More after the jump.
Teams struggle. Every franchise has had its lean times on and off the ice. You absolutely cannot tell me that they would play better in different locales. John Grigg of The Hockey News does, though. He wants the focus to be on the product on the ice, not the financial woes of these teams (or the perceived woes - dear Nick Kypreos - the Thrashers are not moving, despite what you blathered about during the game last night).
I just want to think about hockey, not the business of hockey. And if I’ve had enough, I’m sure you’ve had enough and you can be damn sure those owners who are propping up other teams have had enough.
Hm. Yes, I'm tired of hearing about the business of a business too. Listen, the fans in the cities are tired of hearing about the sordid underbellies of their teams not because they're not doing financially well, but because of the "so-and-so needs to move" tag line that always accompanies this discussion. Just because a business might be shaky does not mean that it's going to close before it's restructured and re-tooled. Tampa Bay was purchased by someone competent. They're not moving to Hamilton anytime soon - they stepped in and corrected the product. Nashville did the same. Phoenix is attempting to. Atlanta, well... ok, we're a work in progress.
Teams and fans also will see success and a more successful financial reward when their team improves in play. After suffering under Gretzky for years of sub-par play, the Coyotes finally have a good coach and are playing an outstanding game this season. What has happened to attendance this year? It's steadily risen to where the number of 'Yotes fans outnumber the visitors. Nashville has been fairly consistently successful and they have a large and very dedicated fan base. So we take these teams and pull them somewhere where they have to start from scratch again?
Dallas, San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles are teams that have been very successful in similar markets to Tampa Bay and Atlanta - places where no one thought hockey would stick. If you give the teams some time, though, quality hockey comes out, the fan base grows, and those cities become just as much a hockey hotbed as Boston, for example - heck, Tampa Bay's won a Cup in recent memory, so they might be ahead of the curve - and of Boston, too.
Attendance is up in Atlanta after the increased level of play - the game after Kovalchuk was traded was a sell-out. People come when the product is enjoyable to watch. No one wants to see a funeral mass on ice, and no one wants to pay for a poor product. This isn't location - this is ownership and this is the quality of hockey played. You fix that, and you could plunk a new team down in Kansas City and people would come. God, they've supported the Royals long enough, haven't they?