Just read a Puck Daddy interview with one of the new co-owners of the Panthers, Stu Seigal. It is an interesting read, if you get caught up in the whole non-traditional hockey market debate.
He claims that Florida is a hockey market due to the fact that there are so many people from the north that retire there or visit there. My favorite line is:
"We're also a huge market for tourism, and when we have games against teams like Montreal and Toronto and New York, we have a huge number of people in our building cheering for the visiting team."
So... the only way a team survives in the market is by filling your building with fans of the opposite team? And that makes you a hockey market? I don't think so. Fill it with crazy people, willing to go shirtless and paint their faces and we can talk. Fill it with people who know who Kovalchuk is and who he plays for. Fill it with people who know who Getzlaf is. Fill it with people who can name three players currently on the Panthers roster, and then maybe, just maybe, we can talk. Fill it with people who can name an NHL player other than Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, or Evgeni Malkin, and we can talk.
Make the jump, join the conversation, or just call me names.
Editor's note: I am expecting an exemption for those fans that sit in the Club Level at the X. They have about as much hockey knowledge as my 16 month-old-daughter.
I do not doubt for a second that there are some ravenous fans down there. There are always loyal fans no matter where you put a team. We had a team here in Minnesota a few years back, the Minnesota Fighting Pike. They lasted a year. It was a new sport, played in an odd way, with rules that people were unfamiliar with. I would be willing to bet they lost a ton of money. No one in Minnesota knew who or what they were. I went to one game, and I was hooked. I was ready to be a season ticket holding arena football fan. They folded before I got the chance
So, even arena league football in Minnesota had a chance to be successful. Not one time however, do I remember them making the case that people from Texas come to Minnesota all the time, so this team will be successful.
Now, to his credit, Seigal does admit that they have done a bad job of converting those hockey fans in the area into Panthers fans. I am not certain how one goes about doing so. Just because I move to Florida (which I hope never has to happen) does not make me want to cheer for the Panthers. Canadian hockey fans are fiercely loyal, as are most fans from the northern US.
Again, not trying to take away from the markets in so called "non-traditional" markets that have made it work. I got myself in a bit of hot water last season when I interviewed the writers over at Preds on the Glass. They schooled me on the fan base in Nashville, and made many very clear, very potent arguments about the fierce loyalty they have for their Predators.
I have had conversations with many bloggers from around the NHL, and would never want to insult anyone of them, nor the team they passionately love. I would never want to alienate our friends over at Litter Box Cats. I know there are passionate, loyal, desperate hockey fans all over the world. I know that there are people in Florida, maybe even in Tampa (yes a shot at the Bolts too), who know who Ilya Kovalchuk is. Now, find 17,999 more, and we can start to chat about Florida being a hockey market.
Is Florida the next Phoenix? I don't know about that. Phoenix is absolutely NOT a hockey market, and one of the most important people to my hockey writing future is a Coyotes fan.When I went to a game in Phoenix, I was handed a pamphlet explaining the rules and game play of hockey by comparing it to basketball. I almost pulled the guy's jersey over his head and beat him. Then a fan told her kid that they were entered in a drawing to ride the Zamboni, which we all know is the "machine that cleans the ice at halftime."
Florida might be better than Phoenix for hockey, but at this point, I am really doubting it. I know that San Jose and Anaheim have been contenders for a great period of time, and have built a fan base out of nothing. The Predators did the same, despite not having been true contenders yet. Dallas suffered through its lumps and has a large loyal base.
I am not trying to do another, as Ms. Conduct would call it, "Minnesota hockey fans are so much better and smarter than those southern rubes" post. I am trying to have a conversation about this. I am not better than any other hockey fan out there, and would love for hockey to grow some roots in Florida and Phoenix. It just seems to me that the people in the markets that have had success are not targeting the tourist base and hoping to fill their buildings with fans wearing the wrong colors.
I am not a contractionist, and I do not want Jim Basillie in the league. I had never heard of Hamilton, Ontario until the debate started to move a team there. I have lived through my team being ripped away and moved, and I would never wish it on anyone. However, Florida has never had success selling tickets. They have not shown progress in it, either. They are in trouble, no doubt about that.
They have new owners, who are the old owners. The team will not change quickly, and they will not have over night success. It will take time to build a winner from nothing, especially when the free agents do not want to stay and help build the franchise.
So. Let's leave the pettiness behind, let's not accuse Florida fans of not being "real" hockey fans or make threats about taking their team away. Let's not pretend we are any better than them, because we aren't. Let's take a moment and ask the question. "Is Florida a hockey market?" Or are they truly going to need to rely on the traveling fans of other teams?
I hope we can get some input from Florida hockey fans...