Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Case for More NHL Expansion

When we think of markets such as Florida, Phoenix, and the now departed Atlanta Thrashers, adding more teams to a league that's perceived to be struggling attendance-wise seems like crazy talk.  But how bad is the league really struggling?

Over at BBG, I noted that the NHL is doing pretty well for itself in terms of attendance when compared to the other major sports leagues in the United States.  When we look at things a different way, the NHL starts to look even better.

Part of the problem is the definition of the term "struggling" when it comes to attendance.  Where do you draw the line between doing okay and doing poorly, 70% capacity, 80%?  Let's add a few more rows to the top of my chart from BBG:


The Islanders (68.1%), Coyotes (70.3%), Thrashers (72.6%), Blue Jackets (75.3%), and Devils (79.3%) were the only teams below 80% attendance last year.  Atlanta-turned-Winnipeg won't be on that list next year, and I'd wager the Devils and Blue Jackets, with improved teams, won't be either.  Hell, even if you go back several years, the attendance picture is fairly good.

Only Two Teams below 80% Attendance Since the Lockout
  • Phoenix - 79.1%
  • NYI - 78.8%

Only One Team below 80% Attendance since 2000
  • Atlanta - 79.2%

Only Three Teams Below 80% Attendance since 1990
  • NYI - 75.7%
  • Carolina - 74.2%
  • Anaheim - 73.6%
The NHL does a pretty good job of putting butts in the seats, and if it was smarter with its expansion this time around (i.e. avoiding southern markets), expansion teams would draw well.

The main reason I started to consider NHL expansion was the prospect of moving to four divisions, which would work a whole lot better if they all had an equal number of teams.  Every other comment I've made has involved subtracting two.  Today I want to go the other way.

As I said, the expansion needs to be in markets that will work.  With the Seattle SuperSonics a thing of the past and the Seahawks floundering, I'm definitely targeting Seattle.  With the Vancouver Canucks and the rest of British Columbia nearby there's a ready made rivalry and I'd wager a bunch of fans who wouldn't mind making the trip south.  Vancouver to Seattle is 3 hours of driving according to mapquest, not that much farther than Toronto to Buffalo, and we all know how many of those fans come to Sabres games.  Plus, there's talk of building an NHL arena in (Bellevue) Seattle in the hopes of getting an NHL team.

That leaves one city remaining.  I think the NHL would want to hedge their bets in a high population area, but I'll consider at least one small Canadian city.  These are the ideas I have in mind for a second expansion franchise in order from my favorite to my least favorite:

Minneapolis:
Pros - Minnesota loves hockey.  It would make for a crazy rivalry with the Wild.  It puts another franchise out west (ish) for geographic purposes.
Cons - Lower down on the population totem pole (48th).  With the Wild, and tons of good college teams, can the Twin Cities support another team?
Arena - Target Center, built in 1990, renovated in 2004, seats 17,500 for hockey.

Milwaukee:
Pros - Milwaukee is an okay draw for basketball (82.3%, 21st), and baseball (81%, 9th).  It's the 28th largest U.S. city.
Cons - Competition with NCAA football, NFL might sap attendance.
Arena - Bradley Center, built in 1988, seats 17,845 for hockey.

Quebec City:
Pros - It's in Canada.  It sold 95% of it's seats from 1990 to 1995 when the Nordiques existed.
Cons - Small Market.  Small, old Arena.
Arena - Colisee Pepsi, built in 1949, seats 15,176

Cleveland:
Pros - Draws well for the NBA (97.8%, 12th) and NFL (90.3%, 22nd).  The Cavaliers and Browns suck.  Could make for a good rivalry with Columbus.  Great Arena.  Great AHL draw (five figures).
Cons - Pro hockey has not been a success in Ohio.  Too close to another NHL team that doesn't draw well.  City's economy is not good.
Arena - Quicken Loans Arena, built in 1994, seats 20,056.

Cincinnati:
Pros - Good NFL draw (92.1%, 21st) despite an awful team.
Cons - Small city.  History of low attendance with ECHL team.  Pro hockey has not been a success in Ohio.  Close to another NHL team that doesn't draw well.  Inadequate Arena.
Arena - US Bank Arena, built in 1975, seats 14,453

Austin:
Pros - Largest U.S. City (12th) without a pro sports franchise.  Within a few hours drive of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  Good AHL attendance.
Cons - It's in the South, close to another team with okay, but not great attendance.  No NHL-worthy Arena.
Arena - Cedar Park Center, built in 2009, seats 6,863.

Anchorage:
Pros - It's in Alaska!  No pro sports teams to compete with.
Cons - Smaller city.  Would make for nightmarish travel.  No NHL-worthy Arena.
Arena - Sullivan Arena, built in 1983, seats 6,599.

Indianapolis:
Pros - Good draw for football (106.3%, 2nd).  Good youth hockey programs.
Cons - Midwestern city.  Poor draw for basketball (74.5%, 29th).  Mediocre hockey interest.  No NHL-worthy Arena.
Arena - Pepsi Coliseum, built in 1939, seats 8,200.  Potentially the 18,165 (Basketball) seat Conseco Fieldhouse (1999).

I'm 100% locked into Seattle, especially if they get a decent arena.  The rivalry with Vancouver would be excellent and it would temper some of the hellacious Western Travel in allowing for another "western" team to shift into the Eastern Conference.

From there, it's a toss-up between Minneapolis, and Milwaukee for me.  I took Minneapolis because I want to see the new franchise and the Wild murder each other six times a year, but Milwaukee probably makes more sense overall.  The city is larger, there aren't any other pro hockey teams to contend with, and there are fewer professional teams from other sports to contend with.  (Bucks and Brewers vs. Vikings, Twins, and Timberwolves).

1 comment:

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