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Friday, May 25, 2007

NHL Relocation Update    

Looks like I missed the boat in my NHL League Optimization post.

The Nashville Predators have been sold to a Canadian businessman, Jim Balsillie, with the apparent intention to move the team to Canada.  It's exactly what I advocated... I just missed the boat on which team should go first.  D'oh.

As of right now, nobody seems to think the Preds will stay.  They became a logical target thanks to a partial out clause that just kicked in.  Average paid attendance for the Preds dipped below 14,000 for the 2006-07 season (13,815), which gives ownership the right to break their lease if attendance stays under 14,000 for 2007-08.

Given that his attempt to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins was predicated on having the right to relocate, it requires no leap in logic to infer that Balsillie's new purchase was predicated (couldn't resist) on that same right.  The Penguins deal fell through only because Balsillie wouldn't promise not to move them.  His lips are sealed for now, but once the ink's dry on the sale agreement I don't expect him to keep quiet.  Ballsillie is an Ontarian.  Hamilton has an NHL-caliber arena all ready to go, and Balsillie just bought a 25-acre lot in Cambridge.  This guy's bringing more hockey to Ontario.

Would I have chosen Hamilton, or the K-W region myself?  Not by a longshot.  Hamilton could support a team, and the Toronto area could probably support a second... mais parce que je suis un Acadien ethnique (vive l'Acadie!!!), je préférerais que mes cousins au Québec devraient recevoir une équipe nouvelle pour remplacer les Nordiques, et les meilleurs uniformes dans l'histoire de hockey!  Ce serait très beau, non?  Malheureusement, c'est peu probable avec ce crisse de type Ontarien responsable.  Quel dommage.  Alors, on marche en avant!  (All done butchering French.)

I do feel bad for Predators fans.  Nashville built their franchise the right way... patiently, from the ground up.  The fruits of over ten years' labor finally paid off with a top-flite hockey team.  It went exactly according to plan, except for the fan apathy  If they can't break 14K per game for a 110-point team before Balsillie begins his inevitable, Major League-inspired campaign of discouragement, why would they turn out in greater numbers next season?  And if they don't, what kind of argument is there for keeping the team in town?  We'll find out in the coming months exactly what's going to happen, but this seems like a slam dunk for a northern migration.

And you know what?  Fine by me.  My earlier post will tell you what I think of the NHL's missionary work in the American South.  With the league suffering through its darkest period in decades, hockey, like any other struggling business, needs to focus on its core customers: Canadians.  Gary Bettman was right to think hockey's action and physicality is a good fit for the South; unfortunately, the South seems to disagree.  Atlanta won its division, and yet its fan apathy equals Nashville's.  Miami hasn't treated its Panthers any better.  Even the Cup-champion Hurricanes were in the middle of the pack attendance-wise.  (Note: these figures are overall attendance, not paid attendance.)  It's time for the NHL to cut its losses and take hockey back to its roots.


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