Monday, July 09, 2007

A call from K.C.

I got a phone call late last week from Howard Richman of the Kansas City Star, soon to be the hometown paper of the NHL's newest team.

"I'm working on a story," he said, "and I'm wondering what the mood is in Canada.

"What do they think about Kansas City possibly getting a hockey team? And how does it compare to Hamilton as a hockey town?"


The Star went big on hockey coverage over the weekend, pumping out three articles that take at look at the history of hockey in the city, the catastrophe that was the Scouts and, in what's become a common refrain already in this country, the K.C. versus Hamilton debate.

It was sort of an odd position to be put in, asked to provide a general comment for Canadians as a hockey expert ** — but I think the gist of what I was quoted saying is applicable (minus a few hyperbole regarding the strength of the hockey market in southern Ontario). One of Richman's arguments was that hockey had set roots in Kansas City in the past and that it wasn't necessarily the hockey "black hole" it was being made out to be, but I think I was able to describe the hockey-mania in Hamilton and environs pretty well.

There's honestly no comparison between the two markets in terms of demand for hockey, and that's never really been the deciding issue for where a franchise would potentially move to. The biggest worry of Canadians, I said, was that a Nashville to Kansas City relocation would only make for another troubled franchise and a repeat of the now-familiar scenario a decade down the line.

Regardless of what I and many others think, however, a team is going to be moved to K.C. and the NHL will try to make a go of it given the ownership situation and building availability. I only hope that the hockey history Richman spoke to is enough for the team to find a toehold in what's been called one of the most overextended sports markets in the United States.

No one wants to see the second coming of the Scouts.

** I'm identified in one of the stories as a hockey reporter for The Globe and Mail, which is incorrect given my work as a copy editor on the sports desk


At 10:16 a.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger Knotwurth Mentioning said...

Out of curiosity, was the situation much different when the league was expanding into Atlanta or Minnesota or Denver? I haven't been around long enough to have been a true hockey buff even as recently as the decision to expand Minnesota (at least not insofar as following financial decisions goes... I've liked the sport as a sport since I was a wee little tot, of course!).

So my question is whether or not there's any reason to believe that the team won't be able to make a second go that is way better than the first? That seems to be the case in those other cities. Or at least, I presume that teams were pulled out of Denver, Minnesota, and Atlanta because of financial difficulties. And yet, two of the three are regularly selling out their games, and Atlanta doesn't to too badly, I don't believe. At least, no one seems to mention Atlanta in the same breath as they do Nashville or (formerly) Pittsburgh.

In short: While it won't be guaranteed instant success the way a team in Hamilton would, is it not feasible to think that perhaps a new team in KC would still manage to fly?

At 11:10 a.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous Gerald Carpenter said...

James, I hope you were misquoted in reference to a statement that there are 8 or 9 million hockey fans in the GTA. That is, of course, patently ridiculous.

At 11:10 a.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I can't speak for the Atlanta Flames or the Colorado Rockies, but the Minnesota North Stars did not leave primarily for financial reasons. There were two main issues:

1) No local government was willing to build the team a new arena.

2) Norm Green, the owner, ran into some legal problems, including a sexual harassment suit filed by the daughter of a Minneapolis city councilman (and sister of former NHL player Joe Dziedzic), as well as a near bankruptcy of his mall business.

The other thing about both Minnesota and Denver is that there is a strong non-NHL hockey tradition in both places.

At 11:23 a.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I hope you were misquoted in reference to a statement that there are 8 or 9 million hockey fans in the GTA.

Agreed, although it doesn't say GTA or "hockey fans". The idea was that the sports market certainly isn't under served given the demand for tickets and population base in that part of the country.

At 12:55 p.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous Gerald Carpenter said...

“In Toronto and southern Ontario, the market is underserved. There’s eight to nine million fans."

I dunno, James, the above is the quote from the article. What did the "fans" refer to - fans of cooking shows?

I would be willing to state that there are not 8-9 million hockey fans in Canada, let alone "Toronto and southern Ontario".

At 1:04 p.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

You've made that point on this site in the past, and I stated above there were some hyperbole in what I was quoted saying. If possible, I would amend my quote to say there are that many "potential fans" in the general area instead of just saying fans, but it's certainly not absurd to say there's an enormous fanbase here that can't access the Maple Leafs.

At 1:29 p.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous Gerald Carpenter said...

Query whether the reason they cannot access Leafs games is because there is not enough supply to meet demand or whether there is all this supposed demand at NHL prices. Perhaps there is and perhaps there is not, but either way there is a vast difference between being a hockey fan, versus being a hockey fan with the ability to pay for the product, versus being a hockey fan with the ability AND inclination to pay for the product. [And please do not cite the idea of 14,000 season tickets in Hamilton as evidence of GTAA hockey demand. Deposits, even ones as high as $500/1000, do not equate to season ticket demand - not by a long shot. To tell the truth, I have a strong suspicion that a material amount of that buying was done by ticket speculators, but as I said that is just my suspicion.]

On a general note, if there is one thing that drives me crazy about the various predilections of hockey fans, it is the willingness to buy the conventional wisdom that has sprung up about hockey in just soooo many respects, without anyone even testing such wisdom. The NHL in the GTAA is just one of them.

At 1:39 p.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Gerald, I'm not from here and I've got no particular bias about the hockey market. And as much as people say everyone is a Leafs fan instead of being a hockey fan, the sheer size of the population base in this part of the country would support another NHL team in this city with no problem. There would be absolutely no problem selling out a team in Hamilton, even if they only sold to GTAers desperate to get out to games.

I'm guessing you're out west somewhere?

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one because money will never be a problem when it comes to the Toronto market. People are swimming in it here.

At 1:52 p.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

James, you don't have to keep defending your stance. You're on solid ground. The Leafs charge the highest prices in the NHL, correct? They sell out every game and you pretty much have to kill someone to get a ticket, correct? That is excessive demand at NHL prices. Seems pretty clear to me.
Maybe not all those unserved fans would switch allegiances to the Hamilton Predators, but evidence is evidence, and Ballsy had no trouble selling season ticket deposits in what, two days? Even if they were ticket speculators (which is a completely unsubstantiated guess by GC) presumably those speculators know the market well enough that they feel they can re-sell those tickets to NHL-hungry fans.
And I'm as West as you can get without being in Japan.

At 1:58 p.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Joe Posnanski writes some great columns, and he's been named best sports writer in America by AP a couple of times. I'd recommend checking out his other work

At 3:33 p.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous hasslehoff said...

Art, should we throw you a life preserver?

At 3:44 p.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous Gerald Carpenter said...

I'm guessing you're out west somewhere?

Actually, James, I live in Hamilton (work in TO) -I suppose Hamilton is "west" of Toronto - and have the distinction of being a rare Hamiltonian who believes the NHL would, sooner or later, do poorly in Hamilton. Mississauga - perhaps; Hamilton - I don't think so (no corporate base).

As someone who is actually engaged in actual business at a high level, I assure you that I am quite familiar with how much money there is in Toronto. There is no unlimited supply of money out there, particularly among hockey fans (keep in mind that both fandom and money must go hand in hand).

Incidentally, I was not actually directing my comment about "conventional wisdom" to you personally, although given your last reply perhaps I should have!

Regarding Vandelay's comments, it took many more than two days for ticket DEPOSITS to get to where they are. I did acknowledge in my post that my suspicion about speculators has no backup other than the odd guy who admitted as much on HFBoards, but I would get no comfort from their view of the marketplace, since there is no risk to them in placing a refundable deposit. At the risk of diverting from the topic, the most laughable idea is the idea that the 70-80 deposits on suites is evidence of anything. Never mind the fact that there is not even the slightest indication of what they would cost - the suites do not actually even EXIST! Accordingly, the notion that one should assume a firm commitment from someone putting down a relative pittance of $5k - with no commitment and fully refundable - against a suite for which they do not know what they would be getting or the price thereof is simply beyond belief.

Incidentally, no one has to kill anyone for a Leafs ticket. You can get them from scalpers. They are pricey, but what else would one expect? I know that one uses extreme language like that to try to bolster one's argument, but it is simply a price issue. It is not an availability issue.

I hope I haven't hijacked the thread. The note on the KC articles was very informative.

At 4:24 p.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger Stan the Caddy said...

Denver has been a success because they had a winner. With the exception of the Broncos, Denver is a very fair weather sports city. The Avs won a championship in their first year in Denver and were annual cup contenders for nearly ten years after that. As soon as it was obvious they weren't contenders, suddenly they stopped selling out and after missing the playoffs for the FIRST time since they've moved to Denver, they had over 10,000 season tickets available this off-season (this from a franchise that had a waiting list in their winning years). To compare KC to Denver would require someone to assume that the KC team will be a contender on an annual basis. Considering the options -- a gutted Nashville team or a weak expansion team, I think it's a bad comparison to make. That's not to say it can't work like it has in the Twin Cities, but I'm doubtful it will. Hamilton, on the other hand, seems like a slam dunk.

At 4:27 p.m., July 09, 2007, Anonymous Hasekbowstome said...

All this discussion about how many fans are in the GTA is irrelevant. Look at the articles! The whole series is about how KC would be a great hockey market if the team were good, and how their previous experiences with hockey turned sour because the teams were bad.

YOU CANT MAKE A MARKET BASED ON WHAT HAPPENS IF THE TEAM IS GOOD. It's completely unreasonable! Every single team in the NHL has down cycles. The Wings were a joke for about 15 or 20 years. The Canadiens have been fighting for nearly 15 years to stay at "mediocre" instead of "bottomfeeder". If you're going to attract a pro sports team, you have to be willing to be in it for the long haul, meaning several decades, not several years. That means there will be good, and there will be bad. You absolutely cannot depend on a market made up of fair weather fans!!

If KC got the Predators, they would at least have a fighting chance, because the Predators have assets, and though they've stepped back due to their salary dumps, can still ice a moderately competitive team. If KC got a expansion team, they would be guaranteed at least 5 years of sub-.500 hockey, putting them right in the hole from the start. This just won't work.

Further, using MIN/COL/ATL as examples is ridiculous! Each was a totally different scenario. Minnesota was a VERY strong hockey market, who truly should've had a team, the interest was definitely there, regardless of how good/bad the team was. Colorado has a decent hockey market, but not only that, they recieved an established team that was pretty decent, and was able to make a big trade and end up bringing a Cup to the area in its very first year, and add two more in short order. Atlanta has been an embarassment to the league, because it was not a hugely strong hockey market in the first place, and was actually very similar to this situation, with this whole "Hey, if the team is good, I'm sure people will be fans". Atlanta, IIRC, is at the bottom of the league in either revenue or attendance, I forget which, and I would wager that they're near the bottom in the other category as well.

Even if KC got the Predators, the Preds are more than one or two steps from pulling off an Avalanche, and one would have to question how feasible such a thing is in the salary cap era. KC would be doomed to either bring in or create a franchise that would not be at an elite level for a couple of years, at best. Like I said, you absolutely cannot depend on the loyalty and reliability of a city of fair weather fans.

Hell, the fact that we're having this discussion instead of discussing the myriad other problems with the NHL is a problem in and of itself!

At 5:20 p.m., July 09, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Joe Posnanski is fabulous. I can't say that he's the best sports columnist in the US, because I haven't read all of them. He is head and shoulders better than any US sports columnist I have read. He is, first and foremost, a baseball guy.

Along with being a great writer, Posnanski also has a willingness to question conventional wisdom that few of his brethren share. After such examination, he often returns to believing the conventional wisdom. I sometimes disagree with him when he does so, but I give him a lot of credit for at least asking questions.

At 12:49 p.m., September 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hockey is alive and well in Kansas City and Canadians are coming here to play. I attended a game here on Saturday evening to watch the Russell Stover men's U-18 game with several hundred people crammed into the Midwest Pepsi Center to watch a 14 year old Canadian defencemen play with grown men. It was a joy to watch and all the "hoopla" about this kid was certainly true. The crowd was buzzing when he was on the ice and he lived up to the expectations. Most said he was only here for the season before going back to Canada for his draft year however the point is Hockey is alive and well in KC at all levels and we're ready for a Pro Team.


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