Nashville Is Becoming A Hockey City

KuklasKorner : KK Hockey : Nashville Is Becoming A Hockey City:

The Predators have sold out 17 games this season and have already sold out the last three Saturday games of the season. The team’s all-time sellout record is 20.

Last season, the Predators saw their revenues increase between 25 and 30 percent, and their television ratings have gone up 50 percent over a year ago and are continuing to grow.

Ever so slowly, the Predators are moving towards that magical moment when the buzz surrounding the team creates a demand for tickets that outstrips actual seats in the house.

Seemingly forgotten now that Nashville has turned it around is that at the time, many were screaming at the league and Commissioner Bettman to quit wasting energy trying to save Nashville and just hand it over to Jim Balsillie to move to Hamilton or Toronto, that Nashville was a lost cause. The drum beating was especially loud in the Canadian media where, of course, any bump in the road in an American team is a failure and the solution is to bring hockey back to Canada, where it belongs.

Speaking of air pockets, anyone take a close look at RIM recently, and what a good job Balsillie’s doing running it? Oh, wait. RIM fell apart, and Balsillie was replaced as CEO. I suppose in the mind of some canadian press members, that simply means he’d have even more time to be an even better owner, since he doesn’t have the distraction of a company to run and can focus more on the hockey team…

Bettman of course ignored all of this and just pushed to make the Predators work again — and now, they are. I would link to all of the press people writing pieces about how Bettman was right and they were wrong, but, well, I can’t find any. They’re too busy writing articles about how Phoenix has failed and just move it to Canada already…

So I will: good job on sticking to your guns and working to make Nashville work, Mr. Bettman. You were right about it.

Just as he was right about Calgary and Edmonton; it’s mostly forgotten that back in the days, not only did Canada lose Winnipeg and Quebec City, there was serious worry about them losing either Calgary or Edmonton (or both) as well. Bettman orchestrated changes in the finances of the league to help support and later championed changes in the CBA to help make it easier for Canadian teams to be viable. This has worked well enough that when it was clear Atlanta wasn’t going to succeed in Atlanta, it was able to move back to Winnipeg and the league has returned to that city. There are continuing rumblings about getting a team back to Quebec City at some point (a good idea, when a team is available), and even Saskatoon has popped up and expressed interest (that, frankly, is not such a good idea. Sorry, guys).

With a league with revenues as large as the NHL and as many owners and cities as the league has, there will always be struggling teams. Not so long ago, chicago was a disaster. Today, look at how well it’s doing. Nashville had problems, but the league found the right people to take it over, and now, it’s rebounding. Atlanta? the right ownership just couldn’t be found for that city, just like, in the day, nobody wanted to own the Jets and they had to move. Now they’re back.

This is typical: if you look at baseball, both the Oakland A’s and the K.C. Royals are struggling; in basketball, you have the Clippers, and Cleveland’s had trouble drawing fans for a while. Sacramento was strongly rumored moving back to Seattle (where the owners convinced the city to spend tens of millions of dollars on key arena and build a poor upgraded building, got tired of the building and demanded tens of millions of dollars to upgrade it AGAIN, and then left when seattle said no — now, a couple of groups seem on the path to building new arenas….) — a weak team is not the sign of a troubled league — necessarily.

Right now, the three big problem franchises are Phoenix (and IMHO, how Phoenix got into this lousy shape is a case study of things you shouldn’t do), and Columbus is struggling, and on Long Island, you have a team in a lousy building with poor prospects of getting a replacement built. These are problems that need work; it looks like the decision is to try to keep the team in Phoenix, if the financial issues around the arena and lease can be worked out. Glendale (where the arena is) has a rather unpopular choice: convince the local populace it makes sense to subsidize the team and eat some of the costs of the building — or lose the team to another city, and lose even more money because now the building is empty (but the bills continue). I always felt the deal in Glendale was a bad one; I’m not happy to have been proven right.

I’m not sure what the answer is in Columbus. Right now, I think the answer is patience; it’s struggling, but it can wait while people figure out what to do. I’m a lot more worried about the Islanders. Charles Wang has a real problem up there, and I just can’t see a good solution up there now — there’s a new arena in brooklyn, but it’s not hockey friendly in the same way the old arena in Phoenix, or the Thomas and Mack in Vegas, or the Key in Seattle wasn’t hockey friendly (and we’ve seen hockey in all three venues, and trust me, that footprint simply won’t work for hockey). I’m a little surprised Wang hasn’t said the hell with it and looked to sell the team to have it moved; I still think ultimately that’s what he’ll do (quebec city, white courtesy phone). And frankly, given how he was treated by the folks in Long Island, that’s what they deserve. But we’ll see.

It’s hard to see how some of these issues will work out. But what I do know is this: Bettman never does what the “easy” solution seems to be, at least to those that write about it without actually having to pay or live with the outcome think is easy. But his track record shows that the while decisions Bettman makes may not be popular in some corners, they’re typically right. And he won’t get credit for it when he’s proven right…