Every major sports league has a couple of teams that could relocate as they shouldn't be in the markets they are currently in. This is for various reasons, such as lack of fan support, poor ownership, bad stadiums or arenas, and many more. Sports franchises could simply relocate to another lucrative market in order to gain a profit. Teams such as the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars (all NFL) and MLB's Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays are just some of the teams that are examples of unsuccessful franchises in need of changes. In the NHL, the three markets that could use a fresh start in another city include the Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Carolina Hurricanes. In this article, the Panthers will be the main subject, and in the Analysis of the franchise we will look at the three things that make it unsuccessful, and the possible relocation sites they could be moved to. Click for the Coyotes (Part 2) and Hurricanes (Part 3).
The Panthers are located in Broward Country, just north of the major city of Miami. The arena is closer to the city of Sunrise, and is about a half hour drive away from downtown Miami. Here's where the problem starts, the team is simply too far away from the major population. Teams with downtown arenas are more likely to gain more fans because of the high density population in that area, and of course many corporations in a downtown core will purchase seasons tickets. A perfect example is the Nashville Predators, where they are a team situated in the sunbelt but because their arena is downtown they achieve many sellouts in a season.
The NHL season has just got underway, and the vast majority of teams had sellouts on their home openers. The Panthers had a whopping 7,311 people attend their home opener, the lowest by far of any NHL team and no where near a sellout. To put that in perspective, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League average 9,000 fans a game, and the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had an average of 10,000 people each game. The panthers, a National Hockey League franchise, had a couple of thousand FEWER fans on their HOME OPENER than the average attendance figures of a couple of junior hockey teams in Canada. If you want to go even further, it costs $20 to buy standing tickets to a Knights game, while $16 will get you upper bowl seats at a Panthers game.
Last season, the Panthers averaged just under 14,500 fans a game (according to hockeyattendance.com). That may seem decent; however Owner Vinny Viola admitted that the team gave away on average 5,000 tickets for free per game. This giveaway of tickets has ended this season after ticket purchasers complained that the team was being unfair to its paying customers, and rightfully so. In the upper bowl of the BB&T Centre, tarps cover the majority of seats, allowing for a higher percentage of the arena to be filled up on paper. If the arena can hold say 21,000 fans, and 14,500 are attending (regardless of wether they paid for the tickets or not) the arena on paper is filled to 70% capacity. With the tarps over a portion of the seats, the team can say that the arena capacity is 19,500, and suddenly the sell out percentage rises up 74% per game, making it look better on paper.
Low attendance is evident in a game vs the Senators
Another aspect to look at is the ethnicity of the Miami general area. According to NBC news, 70% of the population of Miami (and surrounding areas) is hispanic. There are going to be hispanic hockey fans; however the majority of people of hispanic ethnicity will call soccer their number 1 sport, just like Europeans. This is not meant to be racist in any way, it's just that the culture of the city will most definatly play a factor if the people are a fan of the sport or not. Even though the population numbers of Miami and its general area could technically support an NHL franchise, the amount of people who just don't watch hockey is too great for the team to have a sustainable fan income.
Simply put, the team has little fan support and the fact that the tickets are so cheap doesn't help its cause.
2) Years of poor ownership
A lot of people don't know, but its not the team that pays the players, its the owners. If a team makes more revenue, then it's more money in the owners pockets and therefore more money that can be invested in the team. An owner invests in its teams players, as it is the players that could potentially put more money in the owners wallets. According to Vinny Viola, the Panthers last season lost $100,000 a day, A DAY. The arena revenue from other shows and concerts helped ease the losses, but the team still lost $31 million. No franchise can put a quality product on the ice if the owner is suffering that big of a loss each season.
The Panthers finally have a good owner in Vinny Viola, and he stated that he is willing to spend right up to the maximum of the salary cap to put a winning team on the ice. With the cap set at $79 million, and the team losing $30 million a year, he can only do that for so long before he has no choice but to spend less on his players. As of right now, the Panthers have the money to pay for good players, but time will run out soon on their ability to do so.
3) Lack of free agency success
The draft is always important for teams, as it allows for the best talent to be selected and be part of a franchise for the foreseeable future. The draft can only take a team so far, and on July 1st when free agency hits, struggling teams can gain much needed talent if players without contracts wish to sign with them. The Panthers have been unable to gain any notable players during free agency, which looks poorly on the team. This off season, Mr. Viola gave the teams GM the green light to spend freely, and he had to in order to attract players. They dished out millions to players such as Jussi Jokinen, Dave Bolland, and Willie Mitchell. Bolland is at best a 3rd line centre, and the Panthers are giving him $5.5 million a season. To put that into perspective, he is making a million more than James van Riemsdyk (61 points last season) of the Toronto Maple Leafs, $500,000 less than Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche (71 points last season), and 1.5 million more than Jason Spezza of the Dallas stars ($7 million cap hit but $4 million in salary this season, and a point-per-game player over his career). They simply had to vastly over pay to obtain his services, after all, if you were a 3rd line player receiving offers of $2-3 million from other teams and Florida offered you $5.5 million, wouldn't you go too?
Willie Mitchell is another example of a terrible contract. He was sought after when July 1st came around because he is a great shutdown defender coming off a Stanley Cup win with the L.A. Kings. His veteran experience is also a plus. He was originally going to sign with the Minnesota Wild as they had a spot open on their defence because Clayton Stoner decided to depart and sign with the Anaheim Ducks, but his mind changed when the Panthers offered him $4.25 million, a salary no other team was going to even come close to giving him.
The fact that Florida can't attract quality talent for reasonable prices is pathetic. Look at their geographic location in Miami. It has warm weather and beautiful water, it has golf courses and the beach air flying throughout the city. What player wouldn't want to play hockey while living in these conditions? The location of a team and weather in the city actually play a big part in a players decision when it comes down to choosing which team to sign with. The Winnipeg Jets have trouble attracting free agent players because everyone knows it's like the North Pole in Winnipeg during hockey season. In Canada, when you are travelling to your hockey game the first obstacle that you need to overcome before you can get to the rink is getting your car unfrozen. The point is, if players actually signed with the Panthers, they could have the great living conditions as a bonus. The weather should be a great attraction for the team, and after all, many players already buy summer homes in Florida to live in during the off season (example: Phil Kessel). Look at their rivals in Tampa Bay. The Lightning have quality product on the ice, and a great fan base. They signed two notable free agents in Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle this past off season, and they didn't have to over pay for them. The weather in Tampa is the same as in Miami, and Florida should be able to attract players for reasonable prices just like their rivals. As well, the State of Florida has no income tax, meaning not one dime is taken off the paycheques of the players playing in Florida. The Panthers have all these positive factors to attract players to come to their team, and it is a shame that they can't do better to bring talent into south Florida.
Possible Relocation Sight
In my opinion, the one city that the Panthers should relocate to is Quebec City, Quebec. Many people have already made the argument for the case, but i'm still going to state what I think. Heres why the team would be successful in Quebec:
1) Quebec City already has a NHL sized arena under construction, and it is set to open in 2015. The venue is projected to seat 18,482 spectators. The team doesn't have to worry about a place to play, and the city desperately wants a NHL team to call the new arena home.
2) The team would 100% have a sustainable fan base that will keep the arena sold out every game. This is Canada, the hockey capital of the world. Finding hockey fans would be no problem in this city, and their support will last forever.
Nordique fans rally to bring back their beloved franchise back to Quebec City
3) Quebec City would already have a rivalry. The Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques rivalry was one of the best in the league in its time, and often featuring heated games, which the fans love. If the Panthers moved here, the hate between the two fan bases would happen instantly, starting where it left off in 1996 before Quebec moved.
4) The NHL wouldn't have to make any divisional changes. The Florida Panthers are already in the Atlantic Division, along with the Lighting, Sabres, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Senators, and Canadiens. A move to Quebec would allow the new team to remain in the same division, and the league would not have to make any changes to existing ones.
Picture obtained from: http://www.sbnation.com/
In the picture above, you can see the various divisions and the teams in them (colour coded). The blue is the Atlantic Division and if the Panthers moved to Quebec City (located just north of Montreal), you can see that it fits perfectly with the current alignment.
Thanks for reading, links for Part 2 and Part 3 are at the top, feel free to comment.