Friday, February 16, 2007

Picking on the Predators

Never once in its history has the club made a buck. But with everything else going on in the NHL, most notably the great labour war, and because the Predators on ice were unremarkable, no one much noticed.

It wasn't until this season, with the Preds at or near the top of the Western Conference standings and the fans clearly not much interested in that fact, that it began dawning on the larger hockey community that the franchise was a basket case.
A member of the Nashville faithful blasts Brunt in the comments, but it's pretty difficult to argue with any of the above statements. And it's not that he's criticizing those who have decided to turnout and support the Predators.

It's just that hockey now has so many markets that are hoping and pining to be in Nashville's position, at the top of the league, if only to prove they can sustain a team. And when one of them rises to the top of the heap and the host city exudes a collective yawn, it's hard not to write them off.

The best team in the league cannot have 13,000 fans a night in the seats. That's not a quality market, end of story.

It's almost to the point where interested observers are hoping the Nashvilles of the NHL fail in the standings rather than win a championship and prop up a franchise that never should have been. It'd be much easier to watch a franchise expire gracefully at the bottom of the standings, following in the natural order of things, than what's happening in Tennessee.

After all, it's only in the bush leagues that winning teams play to empty arenas.

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13 Comments:

At 12:22 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger The Forechecker said...

The thing to remember about the Predators is that this is really the first year they've had a legitimate chance to contend for a Cup. Up until now, they've been a "Little Engine That Could" type of team that simply hoped to make the playoffs. Couple that with the fact that football is #1 and #1a, and it's no surprise that attendance has declined from the early, honeymoon days of the franchise. Give the city a whiff of postseason success, and see if it responds before writing off what is an affluent and rapidly growing market (with plenty of transplants from the Detroit area).

My point is that if the team enjoys a strong playoff run this spring, and fans fail to show up in the fall, then I'd start ringing the alarm bell. Until then, this just sounds like sour grapes from the Great White North.

Also, the Canadian press (Al Strachan included) need to give up the "they soaked the taxpayers" angle. Things work differently here in the States, and the deal the Predators have isn't unusual. The city of San Diego, for example, ended up buying loads of tickets to support the NFL's Chargers a few years back, due to a similar clause in their lease.

 
At 1:04 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Daniel said...

Markets that deserve a team are the markets that sell out to crappy teams, places where people come to watch hockey because it is hockey. Colorado has sold out some 90%+ of its games since moving from Quebec.

I am a huge Ducks and I am not sure they even deserve a franchise. Kings fans are real fans, Ducks fans are like any other Orange County event, if it is 'cool' they will show up, otherwise it is a non-event.

Places like that do not deserve a team to call their own. I would love to see teams move back to Canada, they deserve it.

 
At 2:20 AM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Baroque said...

Nashville has no doubt done everything possible to have a long postseason run and test how the market will respond, but what if it doesn't happen? Any team can have a quick first-round exit, and if that happens to the Predators this year after everything they have done, how will the market respond to that? They have put all their eggs in one Forsberg basket this year, and an injury-prone player plus good fortune seems to be a slender reed on which to hang the entire hopes for the future of the team.

 
At 2:28 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Forechecker was too polite to mention it, but we (Canadians) are getting a little cocky. It wasn't long ago that the Oilers were halfway out of town for lack of fan support. If the spending cap keeps rising, the Oilers won't be able to afford to ice a competitive team. It's not like they can hike ticket prices 95% every year. If the dollar falls, more trouble.
We've also got no business pointing fingers at Nashville's taxpayer-funded arena.
Oilers business plan:
Short term: Soak fans giddy from flukey Cup run.
Medium term: Convince political idiots to build arena.
Long term: Sell team for millions of profit, mostly thanks to equity represented by the free arena.
The notion that Winnipeg or Halifax or Medicine Hat could support an NHL team better than could Pittsburgh, Nashville, et al, proves that some Canuckistanis have spent too much time outdoors without a toque.

 
At 5:07 AM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say Winnipeg could support a team better than Nashville. For one thing, it's actually a bigger city (654,000 vs. 575,000), not to mention that a much higher percentage of those residents, I can only assume, are hockey fans.

Hockey seems to be sort of niche sport in most parts of the U.S. In a huge city, like L.A., maybe that niche is enough to be viable, but not in some of these smaller markets the NHL has been going in to.

Really though, there should be a second team in the Toronto market way before they started going in to some of these smaller, non-traditional U.S. markets. If you put the Penguins or the Predators somewhere within easy driving distance of the vast hordes of hockey fans in the Greater Toronto Area, you'd have a licence to print money. Maybe the new team would never be as popular as the Leafs, but you'd still have millions of people jumping on the bandwagon. You'd could probably put three or four NHL franchises in the Toronto market, and they'd still each be doing a heck of a lot better than the Predators are now.

I don't know why North American sports leagues seem so intent on spreading themselves so thin. Look at how many high-level soccer teams a city like London can support, for example.

 
At 11:50 AM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous pemul said...

I'm not sure if a strong playoff run is the magic bullet for the Predators. Is Carolina having much more success attracting fans this year?(This is an honest question, I have no idea).

 
At 1:27 PM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Tom L said...

Daniel,

I disagree that the most deserving markets are the ones that sell out regardless of how the team is doing. That's actually the very definition of a BAD fanbase, one that ownership can abuse for years on end without worry about the revenue stream.

The New York Giants were the very model of ineptitude for 23 years pre-George Young, sinking to the levels of "The Fumble" before shame or Pete Rozell (i'm not sure) finally stepped in and forced something to happen.

The Mara family treated the team as a means of playing out their own internecine family squabbles while the fans sold the arena out week in, week out.

Bad franchise and a bad product for the league to sell.

Markets like Carolina, Tampa, Nashville and Atlanta will take time to develop a culture of hockey amongst the locals. 5-8 years is not enough time to plant that seed. It'll take a generation and a couple of really solid teams who win (maybe not the cup, but a solid and exciting run) to create.

The NHL seems committed to having that be the case and is willing to subsidize the growth of these markets with the capital created in others.

Bad teams should not be supported by sellout crowds, there's no incentive for the team to improve.

ta,

 
At 5:43 PM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Baroque said...

Here is a relevant question, though. If it does indeed take upwards of a decade to plant a hockey culture in a non-hockey market (and I also believe this is the case), as the years pile up without profits for the owner, when does his patience run out? If even with the additional revenue sharing money an owner can't turn a profit, when does he decide his time horizon is shorter than the league is willing to deal with, and it isn't worth it to keep pouring money into a team that hasn't made money for them yet; especially when there may be another option (e.g. Kansas City) where they might be able to turn a profit without pouring cash into the team for as many years.

 
At 5:47 PM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come no one ever seems to notice the lousy attendance in New Jersey? It's been that way for a LONG time now and it'll be interesting to see if the new arena provides a bump in attendance.

 
At 7:06 PM, February 17, 2007, Blogger alyosha mcbain said...

If you want to talk about bad product, the Devils certainly qualify. Their stultifying brand of play poisoned the NHL in the latter years of the 90's and the early aughts until holding and hooking calls were rightly enforced again. Expansion and copycatting of the Devils' style has damaged the NHL's game nearly beyond repair.

The Devils' teams may win, but they bore people, and that is reflected in their shabby attendance tallies. But to suggest that loyal fanbases allow owners to put subpar products out there for the fans is laughable. Loyal fans make games more fun for themselves and the players they root for.

Give the NHL back to Canada, where it belongs. I say this as a lifelong New Yorker.

 
At 1:10 AM, February 18, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

If even with the additional revenue sharing money an owner can't turn a profit, when does he decide his time horizon is shorter than the league is willing to deal with, and it isn't worth it to keep pouring money into a team that hasn't made money for them yet;

Really, there's another question. How long should a guy like Mike Illitch (I'm sure he's not the only example, but he's the one I'm familiar with) who built (or rebuilt) his fanbase over most of a decade with his own money be expected to subsidize someone else's market building?

 
At 1:57 AM, February 18, 2007, Anonymous Will said...

I think a lot of people throw arguments around on this subject without checking the actual attendance figures.

http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/attendance?year=2007

One team above all others deserves to be moved: New Jersey. The team won multiple cups, but has a lower average attendance and percentage than Nashville. The team played the Penguins recently in an empty arena.

Moreover, the Oilers (at the middle of attendance rankings directly under the 'canes) only seat an average of 2,000 fans more than Nashville. The Oilers seat nearly 7,000 more than the Islanders and St. Louis. Now that is a pretty big gap.

The NHL should probably move a few teams around, but let's get the facts straight first.

As a side note, Anaheim gets ripped a lot, but its attendance is nearly 16,000, which is 92% capacity. This is probably not the first team you want to move. Pittsburg has even better numbers.

 
At 9:01 AM, February 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about the Islanders? They've been attendance doormats for years now. The few loyal fans they have are living in the past. Every year, the Isles have this heroes parade where Mike Bossy and the boys walk across the street to their delapeded arena from the hotel. That event is all the franchise has got to hang on to. Charles Wang hires the backup goalie to be the GM after getting rid of Neil Smith.How pathetic. Somebody needs to put a bullet in this horse and send it to the glue factory.

 

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