On Los Angeles being a ‘hockey town’

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“When I started the Kings, I was told there were a quarter-million ex-Canadians in L.A. Now I know why they left Canada. They hate hockey.”
     —– Jack Kent Cooke

Not only is today the 25th anniversary of Wayne Gretzky being traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, it’s also Kings day on PHT. So let’s take a moment to talk about L.A. and its place in the hockey landscape.

When the Great One arrived in Southern California in the summer of 1988, it created a buzz in the area that the game had never managed to create before.

“I think this is a great day for hockey in L.A.,” winger Dave Taylor said, per the Los Angeles Times. “Wayne Gretzky’s going to put some people in the seats. We just got the best player in the world.”

Taylor was right. Attendance for Kings games at the Great Western Forum jumped from an average of 11,667 in 1987-88 to 14,875 in 1988-89. By 1991-92, the place was officially jammed (16,005 capacity) every night.

But even with Gretzky, the Kings were never able to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. After he was traded to St. Louis in 1996, attendance fell again — not quite back to the old levels, but in the neighborhood.

To be fair, the team wasn’t very good. In fact, after making it to the Cup finals in 1993, the Kings missed the playoffs in 11 of the next 15 seasons.

Fast forward to 2009-10, and with improved regular-season success came improved attendance — an average of 17,313 that year at the Staples Center.

This past season, following the Cup win, the Kings played to full capacity, averaging 18,178.

Yet when former team governor Tim Leiweke left to take the top executive job in Toronto, here’s what he had to say: “It took us getting to the finals in order to awaken that town. It’s not a hockey town.”

Kings fans who had supported the team while he was there were understandably upset.

With all that in mind, here’s our take:

Los Angeles isn’t a hockey town. Not in the sense that Toronto — or any other Canadian city for that matter — is a hockey town.

Nor is Los Angeles a hockey town like Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, or Detroit.

And to that we say…who cares? That’s nothing against Kings fans — clearly, there are enough of those to fill the rink. Plus, all the locals who support the Ducks.

Los Angeles just has a richer tradition in other sports. The Lakers have won 10 titles since moving to L.A. in 1960. Bit hard to compete with that. Not to mention the challenge of competing with the weather.

Los Angeles is a hockey town in the sense that there are enough Kings fans to make attending games a fun experience. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now.

So, you know…enjoy what you have, Kings fans.

Whatever it is.