Every year the NHL plays a preseason game in Kansas City at the Sprint Center. This season, two non-regional teams are dueling in the city of barbecue and blues music in the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. While the Penguins won’t be bringing Sidney Crosby and the Kings still don’t have Drew Doughty at their disposal, the game is still a sellout success in K.C.
Officials have declared the game a sellout. Standing-room tickets were to go on sale Tuesday morning for what is expected to be the largest crowd ever for a preseason game in a non-NHL market in North America.
That’s a quantum leap from the turnouts of the first two NHL exhibition games played at the Sprint Center when an announced crowd of 9,792 showed up in 2009 for the New York Islanders and Kings, which was down from the 11,603 for the 2008 game between the St. Louis Blues and a split squad of Kings.
So with a preseason hockey game being sold out in Kansas City and not having a handful of superstars even suiting up for it, that’s going to start up the questions about how viable the city is as a potential landing spot for a NHL franchise and who would even want to go there.
The race to have a place ready for a NHL team is a bizarre one as some cities are ready made for a team (like Kansas City) while others have outdated facilities (Seattle) and others are building new ones to attract a team (Quebec City). The teams that are having financial or arena issues are many and with Kansas City’s arena being ready to host either an NHL or NBA team at any time, Kansas City ends up being the first name thrown around.
Before CONSOL Energy Center was approved, Mario Lemieux threatened to move the Penguins there if they didn’t get a new arena approved in Pittsburgh. The Islanders have virtually always been linked to moving to K.C. and with Winnipeg out of the way, you might start hearing rumblings about the Coyotes departing for Kansas City in the near future. That kind of rumor mongering might kick up in earnest if they don’t get a new owner or Glendale doesn’t pony up to cover losses again next year. Even Columbus gets tossed into the conversation thanks to their ability to bleed money in Ohio.
It’s a convenient landing spot because of it’s availability but is it one that makes any sense at all for the league? Not at all. Selling out a preseason game is nice but as The Kansas City Star said, it’s a first for the NHL in the city. Moving a NHL team to a city that’s not rabid about the sport is inviting trouble to that franchise.
The Coyotes have struggled mightily in Arizona, the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, and the Avalanche after a great first ten years have a hard time filling the Pepsi Center these days. Winning has a lot to do with this part of things, but taking a struggling team to an area that at the very least is tepid to the sport has the makings for disaster. It’s great to take the game to cities like Kansas City that don’t have a lot of hockey these days and show off how great the game is, but unless the desire is there from the people there to want a team and shell out the big bucks for tickets, it’s a venture better left for preseason games and not taking a gamble on the future.