The death of a franchise
Breaking up is the hardest part
In the short history of this blog, I don't think there's been a single hockey story I've followed more consistently than Jim Balsillie's attempted purchase of the Nashville Predators.
There's a reason for that, and a large part of it has to do with the fact that I believe this is an issue that gets right to the heart of a lot of what ails the NHL.
And I'm far from alone.
But what's been interesting over the past month or so, as I've attempted to chronicle and weigh in on the various machinations with the Predators sale, is that so many hockey fans in Nashville have joined the conversation, sending me emails, commenting on threads and even writing their own blogs in response to what's written here.
Paul Nicholson's comment on my Balsillie post yesterday is a good example, and a lot of what's there is pretty defensive of Nashville's (and other "non-tradition" hockey markets') relative worth as an NHL market.
I understand where he's coming from, I do, and I even understand why there's some (misdirected) anger aimed my way from time to time given I'm expressing my views on some of this sensitive subject matter.
But Nashville, quite simply, has proven it cannot sustain an NHL hockey team. Even with the lowest ticket prices in the entire league (I know: I've looked into flying there for a game or two) and a ridiculously forgiving arena lease, the team has had attendance issues despite having one of the best records in the league.
It's not a matter of Canadians not wanting teams in the southern U.S.; I've argued time and again in favour of teams like Dallas and Tampa Bay that have supported their teams and really brought something to the table in terms of bringing news fans and new energy to the game. That's a good thing.
The Predators, however, are not that, not in the beginning and certainly not now, and they never will be. Even with an owner as forgiving and deep-pocketed as Craig Leipold, the experiment has failed miserably, and the team will be leaving as soon as it can extricate itself from its lease agreement.
Those are the facts here, but they certainly don't change the feelings involved.
Here's Paul, asking why the outcries over potentially moving an NHL franchise to Kansas City over Hamilton:
Why do you care if the team flounders financially?The honest truth is that I don't find team bankruptcies and relocations particularly entertaining, or beneficial to the game. I don't find half empty arenas filled with fans who received comped tickets entertaining, either. Ideally, the league would be full of teams that were on par in terms of popularity with the six Canadian teams and let's say the top 10 U.S. markets (New York, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Colorado, Buffalo and Minnesota). Ownership would be strong; ticket sales would be stronger.
It'd be a better product, it'd be a more popular one, and it would create an environment where hockey wasn't full of markets resembling some sort of minor-league sideshow where terrific Canadian athletes like Jarome Iginla would play when going on the road.
I think the game, and its players and coaches, deserve better than to be dropped into hockey wastelands and kept there when they fail. I'd eliminate five or six franchises tomorrow if so granted that power.
Please. Really. Answer: Why do you not want hockey in as many places as possible?Why not have a 50-team league? Doesn't Kentucky need a team?
The bottom line, I believe, is that Canadians simply want hockey to be beloved wherever it's played, and that when teams win the Stanley Cup, it means something to the fans involved. The NHL's unfortunately become entwined with the national identity here, and the league's wild goose chase for improved American television ratings and revenues has failed to the point that it risks irreparably damaging its credibility in both countries.
It's time to admit the NHL is what it is, and that its stronghold is in Canada. The six Canadian franchises generated one-third of the league's revenues in 2006, which means the average American franchise produces roughly half the revenue of a Canadian one.
No one is saying this should be a predominantly Canadian league; the country simply doesn't have the population base to support that many teams. But it's unequivocally clear that this country is integral to the NHL's survival, and it's high time Gary Bettman and company treat Canada as more than an afterthought when it comes to integral issues like the placement of franchises.
Kansas City over Hamilton is so undeniably foolhardy that many fans in this country simply can't fathom why such a move is even being considered.
One team will fail; the other will become a national treasure. It doesn't make any sense.
None of it does.
The really unfortunate thing of it all is that there aren't thousands more fans in Tennessee like Paul, who is obviously passionate about the team and wants it to stay put. If that was the case, the Predators wouldn't be going anywhere.