NHL’s struggling franchises should consider relocating to one of three areas
Ryan Spoehr, Editor in Chief
May 8, 2012
Filed under Sports
In 2005, a lockout threatened the very existence of the National Hockey League. In 2011, when all four major broadcast networks were vying for rights to carry NHL games, the league reached a 10-year deal to continue its exclusive contract with NBC.
Fast-forward to 2012, to the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That opening round broke several records for the league. The network is reporting that 28 million people watched the first round alone, the highest since NBC brought games back to their network in 2005.
On NBC, the six games the network carried averaged 2.57 million viewers, a 39 percent increase over last year, according to Nielsen ratings. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Series between the Washington Capitals and 2011 Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins had 1.32 million viewers, the highest for the first round of the playoffs since 2000.
Overall, the league is doing fine with attendance, reporting a two percent increase this season. But there are three struggling franchises: the Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets, who may be relocating in the near future. There have also been rumors swirling for several years that the league wants to expand from 30 to 32 teams. It seems as though there will be plenty of movement in the next 5-10 years.
What does this mean? Cities will benefit from the loss of others to be honest. There are markets starving for a team, whether it’s a well known or just a well kept secret.
Before you jump to any conclusions, I’m not necessarily looking to pull team after team from the south and arbitrarily put them in the north. There’s a reason why the Blues are still in St. Louis and not in Saskatoon. I know that. By the way, none of these markets are even close to being as small as Saskatoon, and they aren’t in the middle of nowhere, either.
Granted, there are a lot of politics involved with the placement of a franchise. However, these are some of the reasons why these markets would work.
Arena: Bradley Center
Capacity: 17,800 (for hockey)
Past team: None
I know, I know. You are saying that the fan base isn’t there. However, with UW-Madison and St. Norbert with success already in the college rankings, it’s arguable that not only is there a hockey culture in Wisconsin, but a winning one as well. Not to mention, UW-Milwaukee is expanding their athletic program to have a team in the WCHA.
The Pettits and the Bradleys originally had the Bradley Center built with the public intention of luring an NHL franchise there. However, in 1994, due in large part to a large entrance fee, billionaire and former Chicago Blackhawks announcer Lloyd Pettit chose not to pay the fee and the hopes of an NHL franchise in Milwaukee went up in smoke for the time being.
The Bradley Center still plays host to the now American Hockey League Admirals, who became the first team to average more 9,000 fans per game in a season in the old International Hockey League. However, with talk of a new arena potentially being built, maybe that could be the last tipping point for a Milwaukee-based NHL franchise (if it ever gets off the ground.) Even if it doesn’t get off the ground, the Bradley Center is ready and if the team is successful, maybe that will create enough support for a new arena at some point down the road.
2. Kansas City
Arena: Sprint Center
Capacity: Approximately 18,000
Past NHL team: Scouts (now New Jersey Devils)
A city that currently has an NFL franchise and an up-and-coming MLB franchise, Kansas City hasn’t had an NHL franchise since the Scouts left town in September. Kansas City’s Sprint Center played host to a preseason game where the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Los Angeles Kings before a crowd of 17,779. What’s the significance of that? It was a sell-out crowd for a preseason game with two teams from nowhere near Kansas City. Where’s that NHL franchise in Kansas City?
Arena: Key Arena at Seattle Center
Capacity: Approximately 17,000
Past team: None
The city has been a rumored destination for the NHL since 1976 when the league was teasing expansion there for the first time. In February, the rumors of the Coyotes relocating to Seattle were starting to intensify with the proposal of a new arena that could also draw an NBA franchise back to the city. Also, 18 NHL teams currently lie in markets smaller than the Seattle area.
Adding different markets to the league can only help at this point. There are other markets sure – for instance Hartford, Conn., Quebec City and Cincinnati, Ohio that may have an argument for a franchise.
Taking advantage of markets starving for an NHL franchise and the fact that more people are coming out to watch games in a bad economy is the way to go for this growing entity. With a league growing in popularity, it is obvious that it is taking several steps forward each year. However, with keeping even a couple of struggling hockey markets in the fold, those steps forward are only met each season with steps back.