Monday, January 17, 2011

Hockey Markets and their Successes - GUEST-POST

This past weekend was my birthday (January 15th) and one of my Twitter followers, Shannon Caulfield (@Shannybaby99) stepped up to be All We Do Is Puck's first guest-post.

She focused on the idea of hockey markets and what could help certain markets succeed and looked into some teams' progress thus far in the NHL. Albeit, it is a large topic to focus on, but I thought she did a pretty good job of helping folks scratch the surface on the issue.

*These are strictly the guest-poster's views*

~Hockey is a beloved sport across the nation and throughout North America but it is obvious the difference teams across North America posses. The popularity of the markets, players, and how success plays a major role in revenue is relevant in the success of the league.

My curiosity lies within the location and management of specific teams. How big of a difference would their success be if they originally started in the East or were moved to a better market? Has the popularity increased/decreased after finding success in a cup run? Where is the correlation between success and a good fiscal year for teams?

According to ESPN.com the team in 2010-2011 with the highest attendance is the Montreal Canadiens with an average of 21,273 attendees per game. The second and third highest in attendance lie with the previous Stanley Cup Champs and runner up respectively the Chicago Blackhawks 21,231 and Philadelphia Flyers 19,594. Next two are the Maple Leafs 19,317, the always successful and original six hockey club the Red Wings with 19,275, the Blues hold 7, Canucks 8, Capitals 9, Sabres round out top ten and Pittsburgh Penguins 11 with 18,212. Three of those teams lie in the Western Conference with winning titles and successful players.

At the bottom of the list? The teams that just can’t get a break are ones and can’t spark a consistent interest with fans begin with the Panthers at 22nd, 23 Avalanche, 24 Stars, 25 Ducks, 26 Devils, 27 Blue Jackets, 28 Thrashers, 29 Coyotes who draw approximately 10,282 and finally the ever-struggling Islanders with 9,692.

Unfortunately for these markets these teams have experienced poor upper-management and ownership ultimately has led to some of this downfall, specifically with the Atlanta who has experienced what it is like to be the product of poorly ran upper management.

After the 2010 season Atlanta cleaned house and is looking up as far as success is concerned. They promoted Don Waddell to President of Hockey Operations, formerly serving as interim coach and GM and the Assistant GM Rick Dudley was then moved to the leadership position of GM. Former Assistant Coach of the Boston Bruins Craig Ramsay was named head coach. Dudley spared no time when it came to the players and quickly got to business trading for Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, defensive powerhouse Dustin Byfuglien. Atlanta is top ten currently overall in the league which is a world of a difference when they finished last season ranked at 23rd. They can give the Southeast Division a run for their money as they are only six behind Tampa Bay and Washington who are tied for 51 points.

The Thrashers’ revenue averages $65 million per year and rank under Washington at 27 according to fromtherink.com and Forbes magazine. They brought in a mere $59 million in the 03-04 season and saw a great deal of improvement just a few years later bringing in $70 million in 2008. What does that mean for Atlanta? With the big(ger) ticket names and recent Stanley Cup winners gracing the roster? Increased interest means increased revenue and a bigger shot at remaining in their market.

It’s no shock that the Toronto Maple Leafs hold the current number one spot on the aforementioned Forbes list averaging revenue of a staggering $134 million. Despite their consistent lack of winning Their fans are unwavering in their support for the Ontario based team. Second is the Rangers with $122 and third is Montreal with an average of $107 million dollars in revenue not a shock either, New York City is the largest populated city in the U.S.

Pittsburgh is ranked low on the Forbes list at 23, they brought in approximately $52 million 03-04 and by 07-08 the year they began to see significant success; they had brought in coincidentally $87 million, (but cool). Pittsburgh had the highest percent increase at 67.31% the next highest belongs to Anaheim with a 66.67% increase and bringing in $90 million in revenue in 2008 the year following their Cup win. The next highest percent increase lies with the team from the Garden State starting with a $61 million in 03-04 to bringing in $97 million in the 07-08 season.

Colorado had the biggest percent decrease within the five-season span surveyed. They were down -8.08% while remained ranked at number 9 for bringing in the most revenue. The second team ranked in the negatives, also rounding out the top ten, was Tampa Bay who’s average was $85 million but down -4.55% over the five year period. Third who was down in the negatives and also in the top ten was the Philadelphia Flyers who are ranked sixth on the Forbes list average approximately $96 million and found themselves -3.77% percent.

Despite the rankings according to Forbes over this five year period; I can’t help but be aware of the success of these teams at the current time. The Flyers are seeing sellout crowds due to their recent Cup run against the Blackhawks and are currently going between first and second in the league and the consistent passionate support of their fans. It’s no secret in sports that Philadelphia has some of the scariest passionate fans in the country. The Flyers success has only fueled the fire of the passionate fans.

Colorado has not only recently picked up Matt Duchene but has seen some recent success and have been fluctuating with their current rank of 16. Colorado finished last year in the top 12 and clinched a playoff spot. They saw some spotlight with goalie Craig Anderson and his unbelievable go-around during the playoffs. Unfortunately for the franchise, the fans only seem to want to fill the stadium during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The other team in the negatives was Tampa Bay who saw the 25th rank at the end of their season, one of their forwards Steven Stamkos brought a lot of press to the team tying with superstar Sidney Crosby for most goals in a season and co-winning the Rocket Richard trophy. In this ‘10-‘11 season they are on fire and round out the top 5 in the league. They recently picked up Flyer veteran Simon Gagne; Stamkos and St Louis are seeing success with 57 and 53 points respectively they’re proving their success. I recently had the pleasure of experiencing a Lightning game in Tampa Bay and there was a decent, loud crowd. The more the team sees success (they pulled in first in the Southeast Division that specific game) the more fans and support they can garner and a positive increase in revenue as things take off.

What can the NHL do as a whole then to generate more fans and a higher success rate for the teams drawing poor crowds? We can’t blame the economy for everything, especially when Detroit ranks in the top 10. The NHL should carefully take a look at locations that contain more rinks per-capita, as well as the favorable opinions of ice hockey in various cities with high interest in a professional team. Money and cost of hosting these teams are a huge factor, as well as the promise of generating enough revenue to keep the teams.

What about a starting point for these new locations? Look into successful NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey, the successful clubs not only draw the attention of fans enough to sell out crowds nearly nightly but they also contain a number of players who will soon make the transition of collegiate athlete to pro-athlete. North Dakota could be promising as well as Maine (especially with its close proximity to Canada). There has been talk of moving a team back to Winnipeg; how will that play out? As of now, it’s just rumors.

Other things to consider: the NFL. There are huge, very serious allegations insinuating a lockout. While this news is disheartening to football fans nationwide, there lies the opportunity to give the NHL the financial boost it needs. Unfortunately for football fans there are no other football outlets for them to get excited about.

However, during this pending lockout, there are options for football fans: sports that start around the same time, like ice hockey and basketball. This gives each sport a fair shot at new fans and a new interest in what each has to offer. These fans did show excitement during the Olympics, and especially after the 24/7 HBO series, the spotlight on hockey seems to have gotten brighter with lockout implications in other sports. When fans of these other outlets have their sports taken away, they will have the opportunity to further explore the idea of hockey -- Just something to take into consideration in the very near future.

Success is ever important to the NHL between the success of teams and players. The NHL is creating new ways to bring positive attention to the league, such as the 2011 NHL Winter Classic and hyping up its biggest superstars. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have brought attention the Capitals-Penguins matchup at Heinz field brought in 4.5 million viewers, the highest of their matchups thus far (the two still have two more matches to go this year). This Winter Classic had a 10% increase in viewers from all the others according to thehockeysuit.com.

These are all signs of an increased interest in and what the league has to offer to new fans. With the better stars, fresh ideas for fans, young stars the league is consistently recruiting, there is more attention brought on to the NHL. The franchises pull in fans and will have greater revenue each fiscal year. Fresh, innovative and exciting ideas involving fans give an enhanced chance to each franchise respectively for the most success attainable for the NHL. ~

If you have interest in being a future guest-poster, email me at lewisa@washpost.com with your potential topic and approach.

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