Al Strachan writes that the sale and possible move of the Predators is a sign that the NHL is losing the battle for popularity in America (via Kukla’s Korner).
Strachan cites the NHL’s state-side TV deal, expansion, which he labels as a “spectacular failure”, and then how American owners won’t want to see another Canadian team:
This is a league that does not share its attendance revenues. So a Canadian team might draw well at home, but an American owner couldn’t care less. He’s not going to see any of it. What he does know is that Canadian teams are traditionaly the NHL’s worst road draws. An owner in a major American city doesn’t want to try to sell tickets for games against teams from places like Winnipeg, Quebec and Waterloo — or even Calgary and Edmonton for that matter. He wants visits from New York, Boston, Los Angeles and so on.
Now, once Balsillie purchases the Predators, the battle will be on. He will want to move that team out of Nashville and into Canada. Perhaps, down the road, some other entrepeneur will try to follow a similar pattern with the Atlanta Thrashers or the Florida Panthers, and some of the other cities that Bettman brought into the NHL.
And while Canada is a nice place, it’s not the place to be if you’re trying to establish your sports league as a major league in the United States.
Strachan would be dead-on if this was a team other than Nashville. The Predators were last in the league in filling a building on the road this past season. The other teams Strachan mentions are actually #25 and #27 on the list.
Canadian teams stretch across the list, from #6 Vancouver to #26 Ottawa.
As the current schedules are very division-heavy, remember that division opponents are important here. Boston’s #3 on the list thanks to Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Buffalo, teams that collectively averaged sell-outs for the season.
For that same reason, you have to cut Nashville at least a little slack, having to visit St. Louis and Chicago as much as they did last season (about 20% of their road games right there). Divisional opponent Columbus, despite their perennial non-success, still keeps at least some crowd at home, but also falls short on the road, ranking #29. Detroit, generally a top draw around the league, ranks #12, the best road ranking from the Central division.
If a team is already the worst road draw, the other owners might just be willing to test out another locale, no matter where it is.
Strachan brings up a thought you’ve probably read a good amount the past few years:
In 1994, after the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, there existed another universal view of the game, a view that was diametrically opposite to the one held today. At that time, the NHL was seen as the league poised for stardom.
The NHL definitely looked like it was ready for that #3 spot, right behind the NFL and MLB here in the States. They never got there, and now the NHL would probably rather not look at any popularity charts.
However, one thing to remember is 1994 was when the league was at its all-time high in Canadian teams, with eight. It wasn’t a long time, just three seasons that the Ottawa Senators existed before the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche.
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