Posted on: January 25, 2009 9:28 am

In defense of relocated, expansion teams

Much has been written about the economic troubles the Phoenix Coyotes are having. The best article in my opinion is Stu Hackel's of the New York Times.
The Morning Skate: How Did the Coyotes Mess Happen?

Many Canadian journalists and fans seem to abhor expansion and relocated NHL teams. The media and fans denigrate those teams at every turn, and they want those teams moved or contracted. It's refreshing to see the opposite opinion in Hackel's article.

After wonderfully encapsulating, decorating and amplifying (David) Shoats’s findings, (Stephen) Brunt writes that the Coyotes are merely “the first domino.” In Brunt’s view — and the view of many who bemoan the N.H.L.’s ambitious move to the Sun Belt of the last two decades — the missionary work that bum-rushed hockey out of traditional markets and into the American South in order to save it, has in fact, torpedoed the league.
“Historically, the Coyotes are a symptom, not the disease,” Brunt writes. “They exist in their current straits because of the N.H.L.’s rose-coloured aspirations to conquer America, aspirations that had been kicked around for decades but really took flight after Gretzky was sold to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 and set off hockey mania in Southern California. The Phoenix franchise shifted from Winnipeg because the league had in theory outgrown that city and the market. The question of solid, grassroots hockey interest was beside the point; the sport packaged properly, the conceit was that the league could sell it to anyone.”
Well said. Except that’s not exactly the way it happened when it came to N.H.L. franchise relocation.
The Winnipeg Jets, like the Quebec Nordiques and the Hartford Whalers — and nearly the Pittsburgh Penguins — all relocated in the mid-’90s, but not entirely because of the league’s desire to expand its footprint in the warmer climes of the U.S. (although that was certainly a main plank of the early Bettman regime). These teams, well rooted as they were, didn’t outgrow their cities “in theory,” but in fact.
One fact forgotten by Brunt and others is that the business of hockey changed drastically when Alan Eagleson (whom Brunt skewers in his excellent book, “Searching for Bobby Orr”) was ousted as head of the N.H.L. Players Association — a move few of those who now rail against Sun Belt teams would condemn. But his ouster set off a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events that changed the course of the league and set it southward.
When the Eagle was replaced by Bob Goodenow, the union’s accommodations to ownership were gone too. One brief strike later (in 1992), and salaries began to skyrocket. That was followed by one half-season lockout (in 1994), and the rocket’s booster kicked in. The N.H.L.’s trajectory completely changed.
To cover those escalating salaries, owners needed new revenue. Since hockey was an arena-based gate-receipts business — as it always has been and continues to be — the owners found that they needed more seats, more amenities, more luxury boxes and, yes, even better parking revenue. Many owners got those things. Not all did.

When owners didn't that's when the teams moved. Hackel goes on to explain the Winnipeg Jets owner and Winnipeg city government couldn't get a deal done. He cites Thin Ice written by Jim Silver.

“There were more pressing needs in Winnipeg to which public funds could be applied than building a new arena that differed from the old one primarily in having luxury suites which would be the exclusive and tax-deductible preserve of the corporate elite.”

Hackel also puts forth that each franchise is a unique case.

The real story of the current N.H.L. map and how it came to be, as we have seen, is not quite as simple as an American commissioner with little feel for the game’s roots manifesting his desires by forcibly transplanting teams to where he sees fit to grow U.S. TV ratings.

What I also found interesting were the readers replies, and Hackel's rebuttals to people who disagreed with him.

Puckster: Contraction is a disaster politically and economically for the league, the owners, and the players who will lose their NHL jobs. The only people who can potentially benefit by contraction are the fans in the remaining cities who will, at least in theory, see better hockey.

Rick: Relocation I can see as a solution but contraction would be damaging to all owners as it would surely lower the hypothetical “market value” of all franchises.

Hackel: I certainly can’t disagree that the NHL sought a larger Sunbelt presence after what appeared to be the Kings success during their Gretzky era. But first, Bettman really can’t take credit / be blamed for all those Sunbelt expansion teams. The Lightning, Ducks and Panthers all pre-date Bettman. Atlanta and Nashville both joined during his tenure, but the long range plans for expansion were set out by NHL ownership in the late 1980s. Markets were not specifically identified, as I recall, but certainly the desire to move into new areas existed prior to Bettman becoming commissioner in 1993. So to hang Sunbelt expansion on him is just historically inaccurate.
When it comes to franchise relocation, the Hartford situation was, like the Winnipeg situation, one where the club did not have the kind of revenue generating building at the Civic Center necessary to compete in the new era NHL. Hartford was the smallest market in the league at that time as well, so the chances of generating sufficient revenue even with a more modern building were questionable. If Mr. Bettman played a role in their departure to Carolina (they did not go to Raleigh immediately because the building was not completed; they played two seasons in Greensboro in front of many empty seats) it was only after efforts were made to keep the team in CT. and have them relocated in a new arena, which never came to fruition. Mr. Karmanos, who still owns the team, promised he’d stay in Hartford for four years after he bought the club, but only stayed for three. My recollection was there was a target number of season tickets that needed to be sold that was not reached, but there were no partial plans or any creative efforts made to meet the goal; it seemed half-hearted and Mr. Karmanos wanted to relocate to a more lucrative market. If Mr. Bettman did nothing to stop him, well that is part of his job as commissioner, to help owners maximize their franchise value. Tthe owners are his bosses, after all. He wasn’t going to ask one of his owners to continue to lose money.
Yes, Mr. Bettman intervened in the Predators to Hamilton fiasco, but I’m quite certain that was done at the behest of owners as well, especially Toronto and Buffalo who had the most to lose.
As for whether the former WPG and HFD are better able to support and NHL team today than Nashville, Southeast Florida or Phoenix, I don’t know that there is any compelling evidence to prove that. Give any of these cities a winning, contending hockey club and they might be OK. But that’s not the point. As a business, any team has to be in a market that can generate sufficient revenue to succeed and neither WPG or HFD have that arena at the moment.

Hackel: I certainly agree with you (puckster) on the downside of contraction. I don’t favor it as a solution for the league’s problems, but it doesn’t matter what I think. Regardless, losing a franchise is a very damaging thing for the game, as you point out. But each of the league’s troubled teams are highly complex and unique entities and I believe it’s really impossible to predict how any of them will be effected by the current economic problems going forward. Anyone talking contraction at this moment is speaking somewhat recklessly.

The siv: For the NHL to be successful, it needs millions of knowledgable fans that can appreciate the game. It also needs a TV deal, which cannot happen without the support of those fans. Moving the league back to hinterland cities will only exacerbate the problem. And yes, I count the likes of Kansas City and Portland in the same boat as Hamilton and Winnipeg.

Donny: I’m sick of people who blame all the league’s woes on 1) the sunbelt expansion, or 2) Gary Bettman. I may never regard Gary as highly as Paul Tagliabue, but as the article says, the success of an NHL team isn’t necessarily guaranteed in places with “strong roots”, and as business ventures I’ve never believed that NHL teams had some natural advantage by simply being in a Canadian market. It’s not all about winning, because it also requires solid ownership, marketing, television, and favorable economics.
The point is that deep roots don’t mean much without deep pockets, as much as many would like to wistfully believe otherwise.

And my retort to fans who agree with the anti-Sunbelt types.
Why is it fans in the cold weather climates get a pass when they don't support their teams? It's supposedly that they're smart fans who know better than to support a weak team or it's the economy as in Detroit's case. Yet when Sunbelt fans don't show up for maybe the same reasons it's immediately an incrimination that they don't support hockey. The double standard infuriates me.
Mike Illitch had to give away cars for Hockeytown fans to show up in the early 80s. Also, not many fans are showing up this year for Islanders games.
Just last year, http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/atten
, Chicago and New Jersey were at an 82 percent clip. Above them last year, Phoenix and Atlanta, at about 85 percent.
Fan attendance goes in waves. Put a winning a team on the ice, fans will show up it's that simple. See Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim.
Realistically contraction talk is a non-starter. People need jobs, it's not a time to get rid of them, and especially if ratings and attendance are up .
The League doesn't favor contraction, and the PA won't favor it either. Players won't vote to put themselves out of job. Then there's the management, support staff, etc. All those jobs lost. Contraction is unrealistic.

As for the moving southward and westward in the first place, the NHL followed the migration patterns. That's what The Falconer posted in his blog entry, Hockey Fans, Like Population, Move Southward .

One point that I think people often forget when discussing the history of NHL expansion into the south is that the US population has made a rather dramatic shift southward since World War II.

Some other salient points as he follows expansion and relocation.

By 1980 the NHL had effectively covered almost every frost belt metro area. Cleveland was the biggest exception and even that city had the failed Barons franchise for a few years.

The 2nd expansion of the NHL took place in the 1990s as the league expanded from 21 to 30 franchises most of which were located in non-traditional sunbelt markets. Several franchises were also relocated from the smaller Canadian metro areas to the US during this same time period. This resulted in a NHL covering the booming sunbelt cities where millions of Americans were moving to over time. By 2000 the NHL had covered every top 10 US market with the exception of Houston.

Conclusion: The United States population is in one of the great long term migrations (the other two being the westward frontier and the Great Migration of black people out of the south between 1870-1950.) This long running shift from the north to the southern part of the nation is unlikely to end and the NHL is adjusted to these population trends.

Many fans complain about the lack of NHL coverage. Had the League not followed the population trend, there would even be less coverage because it'd be missing a large portion of the U.S. population. The NHL needs those markets if it's to grow and flourish. Without them it's regional and a niche sport as many NHL critics espouse.

Posted on: September 11, 2008 8:23 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2008 8:33 pm

Hockey, Caniac fans

So about a month ago I received this article by Luke DeCock titled "What made you a fan?" in a Google Alert

Similar to the blog entry I had a while back, this one is geared to the Raleigh, North Carolina area.
Some are classic, and some brought tears to my eyes.

It's worth reading the whole thing, because I'm just highlighting some of the posts and all are just excerpts.
Anything in bold is my emphasis.

Jeff Williams:
I can honestly say (with apologies to my father, who still lives in Texas), that hockey is now my favorite sport.

I was hooked for life!

FLA Caniac:
<he>My goal has been to someday retire to NC near the Raleigh area of course. I have now bought jerseys,hats,t-shirts etc...and stuff for my home and car. I have even named my Doberman puppy "Raleigh". I am hooked as hooked can be.
Later ....
Hockey is life ...</he>

I'll watch the Canes rather than a local college basketball game, and I watch a lot more hockey in general than any other winter sport.
Later ...

Hockey is a great game and maybe the only team sport left where honor and loyalty among teammates and throughout the team organization is still very important. The Canes exemplify that as well as or better than any other NHL team - that's why their fan base is expanding so well around here.
scomil grew up in Indiana and chooses hockey over basketball!

I became a hockey fan in Atlanta, when the Flames played their inaugural season (72-73). It was great fun to watch then, and still is... an appeaing blend of power, speed, and skill with layer upon layer of subtlety and nuance in strategy and tactics. Not too physical like football, not to cerebral like baseball. Also I like the fact that 98% of the players live a reasonably clean life off the ice (hello, NBA). Incorporation of Europeans into the NHL was a great advance too.

The minute I walked in, I was hooked.


I played all the other sports. I always came back to hockey. Nothing required the speed, grace, physicality, and skill quite like the game of hockey. The others were always just easier because you weren't doing things on skates. The ebb and flow of the game, the thrill of rushing down the wing and streaking in on the goalie, deking him out of his jock and having him frantically flailing at the puck as it went past him/her, the feeling of absolutely laying a guy out with a great check.... nothing matches that....
Later ...
When you see the game played the right way... and see the flow of that much speed and skill... it's hard not to get hooked...

Despite being relatively new to the ranks of hockey fan-dom I can see why people all over the country (and world for that matter) have devoted their lives to both playing and cheering on those who do. I moved to Raleigh from Houston in 2005 which was the same year that I fell in love with hockey. I grew up loving football (especially high school) and college basketball but when I saw my very first hockey game during those amazing playoffs, everything else took a back seat. I was immediately hooked and have been ever since.
Later ...
The speed of the game, the amazing display of skill and the interesting back stories of everyone involved just add to why I am known among my friends as the hockey fanatic.
Later ...
I was awed by the effort given on the ice and the fans' reactions in the stands and seeing such a fast paced game in person made me count down the days until I could go back. To this day I still get goosebumps when the lights go down and the team makes its entrance to the roar of the loudest fans in the NHL.


I was a casual fan till the 2002 run to the Finals. After that I've been "all the way in".
The players are also great. I've never experienced any ill will towards the fans. Most stop and will interact with the fans in a very friendly manner. Its awesome to shake hands,grab an autograph and ask a question of an on ice hero.
Finally - the atmosphere at the RBC is simply amazing ....I've been to sporting venues all over the country and the RBC has a unique atmosphere. Its not the biggest or most plush arena but overall - its hands down unmatched.

The following fall, the NBA had their work stoppage, so I started watching whatever hockey I could get on t.v. - it was a time when there were games on both ESPN and ESPN2 and we had Fox Rocky Mountain Sports available. The more I watched, the more I loved the game. I've never gone back to the NBA! My first live hockey game was at the ESA (2nd game the 'Canes played there) while I was in town for job interviews. (The 'Canes got hammered by the Leafs, but what the heck, it was live hockey and I had a ball!)
Later ...
I'm hopelessly hooked on the game and a Caniac forever!

Now I go through withdrawls during the off season, unless I'm playing NHL 08 on my X-box360 or talking with friends and family that are Caniacs like myself. I can't wait for the hockey season to start, as September gets closer i'm starting to feel like a kid right before christmas.

I remember it clearly. I was watching the evening news one spring evening in 2002 and heard 'the Carolina Hurricanes are going to the Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings.' I'd never watched an NHL game start to finish in my life at that point. But even I knew how important those words were--"Carolina Hurricanes," Stanley Cup finals," and "Detroit Red Wings." I started watching the games on TV, got completely hooked by the skill/speed/strength/grace of the game. Now, I'm a STH.
To say my knowledge of and love for hockey has exploded in these 6 short years is a gross understatement.

However, a few years later my son and I had the opportunity to go to a Carolina Hurricanes playoff game against the NJ Devils in 2002 and we have been hooked ever since.
Later ...
Right then and there I knew I was HOOKED! I have been a fan ever since. It is ADDICTIVE, once you go to your 1st. game. The players are the BEST (so down to earth and friendly). I find myself looking online all the time now for any hockey news I can find. I order Center Ice every year and watch NHL Network faithfully.

I had never been to a hockey game, nor did i know anything about hockey, when a guy asked me out and said he was a season ticket holder.... he asked if i'd like to go to a game. The reason i had never gone was because i just couldn't justify the cost of the ticket, seemed like a lot of money for a game! So i went..... that was the first playoff game of the Stanley cup run in 2006. And needless to say, I kept going with him until the very end. Although we're not together any more, I made some sacrifices and scraped up the money and have become a full season ticket holder, sitting third row. I haven't missed a game......and don't plan on ever missing one. I think if i were in a coma, they'd have to have the game playing in the background!! LOL. 41 days until the first game...........not that i'm counting.

Born and raised in Chatham county, I grew up a huge fan of Tarheel basketball, major league baseball and the Washington Redskins. My first real exposure to hockey was the amazing run to the gold by the US in the 1980 Olympics, but that interest soon faded.
Later ...
When the Canes had their big ticket drive leading into the 2001-02 season I decided to buy two season tickets for my wife and me to use, as well as to share with our employees as a perk. After the first month of the season my wife, a total non sports person, fell in love with the game and the players as quickly as I did. There's just nothing like watching hockey in person to get you hooked.
Later ...
The thrill of being in the RBC to watch our boys raise the cup on the night of our 24th wedding anniversary is one of my life's greatest moments (no disrespect to my wife), and certainly the greatest sports moment I can remember. I can say with certainty that we'll be fans for life. I can't wait for this season to start so I can get my fix in after this much too long summer.
Category: NHL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com