Yesterday we took a look at Business Journal’s financial rankings to see which cities would be most fiscally capable of bringing the NHL to town. Cities like Houston and Las Vegas made the cut in impressive fashion while Canadian places like Quebec City and Hamilton were viewed as borderline possibilities as homes for the NHL.
While their rankings were financially based as far as how much money those cities have and ticket prices and their own methodology on things, having the money is only part of the equation as we’ve seen already. After all, Atlanta ranked 11th on their list and is viewed as a sufficient city to play host to an NHL team. We’re not likely to see that happen again any time soon (or ever) but having good ownership and a consistently large fan base is what makes the biggest difference.
But when you see Riverside-San Bernadino, California rank out as the top city capable of hosting an NHL team while places like Quebec City (31st) and Hamilton, Ontario (33rd) are viewed as “borderline” there’s something amiss here. Sure we’ve seen the Kings be a success in southern California and the Ducks, while a bit off in attendance, have won a Stanley Cup, but would you run the risk of putting a team there just because the money exists there? No way.
The part where their ranking system fails is that it doesn’t take into account where the hockey fans are. Are there hockey fans in all these cities? Sure there are, hockey love exists all over the place. But like Atlanta showed, even the most loyal of the die hard fans can’t keep a team there forever. Hell, the die hard fans in Phoenix might not be able to keep the Coyotes there with or without an owner and Phoenix is one of the biggest television markets in the United States.
It’s hard to take a ranking system seriously that puts cities that have AHL teams that struggle to draw fans ahead of a former NHL city that’s having a new arena built so as to attract an NHL team for relocation. Cities like Albany, NY ranked 23rd on this list and their AHL team was last in attendance in the league. Meanwhile Bridgeport-Stamford, CT was 3rd, Rochester, NY was 16th, and Worcester, Massachusetts was 26th while all their teams are in the bottom ten in the AHL in attendance. If your city can’t come out and support hockey at the minor league level in a big way, that doesn’t bode well for a potential future as an NHL home.
Nordiques fans from Quebec City were able to bring one to two-thirds the number of fans the Albany Devils would draw on a regular night to games on Long Island and in New Jersey to show that they’ve still got the kinds of fans that want the NHL. With the economy being the way it is in the United States and the issues that can present to fans and owners alike, if teams are going to relocate or if there’s going to be (gulp) expansion, it’d make far more sense to go to where the fans are already there en masse.
The NHL tried to spread their footprint across America with their relocation and expansion efforts in the 90s and early 2000s and while some of those have worked out well, others are hurting or struggling still. While ownership issues helped force teams out of Winnipeg, Hartford, and Quebec City to places like Phoenix, Denver, and North Carolina the NHL would be wise to consider going to places where teams will instantly thrive.
So far the relocation movement back into Winnipeg is proving to be a success and with the rabid fan base there, things should thrive. If the Coyotes or Islanders or Blue Jackets are to run into major issues in the future that will force them to seek a new home, here’s to hoping that the NHL won’t be blinded by the potential dollars might be and go to where the money will continuously flow thanks to having a hardcore fan base already in place.