When David Legwand hit the empty net for the final nail in the coffin against the Anaheim Ducks, I was one of those in attendance crying. When I try to explain to them why my tear ducts activated, it never conveys well. After all Preds fans have endured, it was more than just a series. It was vindication. It was an affirmation that all we worked for was not going to be snatched away in the night and shipped off of Canada. It was a moment that will never be forgotten around here. Why? Because in that moment, the fans finally knew without a doubt the team was going to stay, and keep building towards success.
Part of what makes the franchise viable to newcomers is the location of the arena, one of the key factors facing struggling teams today.
This is the first in a three part series examining the Preds and their recent success with creating a buzz, and surviving the turbulent times where other teams haven’t been able to so easily. Parts two and three will be on the way shortly. This is a response to those unjustly labeling the cities of Atlanta and Phoenix as non-hockey markets without understanding the culture and obstacles in growing the market.
The most obvious comparison is to the former Atlanta Thrashers, now relocated and rebranded as the Winnipeg Jets. One of the biggest gripes of the entire city of Atlanta is their transit system and the never ending knot of interchanges and traffic on the highways. Most of the Thrashers fanbase traveled from the North side of the city, and Philips Arena is situated in the exact center of the city. While it is adjacent to the rapid transit rail line, MARTA has more than its own share of issues and does not have the biggest fan club in the city. The Arena was built to replace the OMNI – arguably the worst architected arena of all time. (The roof was supposed to rust in order to seal itself, except it never stopped rusting) The Hawks, principle tenant of the OMNI, draw people from all over the city, which does work well for the location of the arena to serve their purposes. And it makes economic sense for the teams to share a building. Just one problem- the ownership was horrible. If the team is not committed to winning, there’s no sense in a fan fighting through North Atlanta traffic for a team. But even when the Thrashers were winning, location contributed to their sluggish attendance.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Florida Panthers. in the late 90s, Miami Arena was home to both the Miami Heat and the Panthers. Instead of building a joint venue, two arenas were built in separate parts of the greater metro area. The Heat’s building lies in downtown, not too far from South Beach and the night clubs, and the Panther’s arena is located in Sunrise right next to Sawgrass Mills (a gigantic mall/entertainment complex) just east of the Everglades. While the Panthers attendance hasn’t been great, they’ve drawn an average of over 15,000 a game. Not bad when you remind your self the last time the Cats made the playoffs. The Panthers use their location, and lots of smart marketing to draw crowds to see the Panthers, the team they’re playing, or whatever reason. But they’re paying.
Of course, suburban arenas are hit or miss. Ask the good folks in Glendale about that.
In Nashville, a suburban venue would not work as well. While the city is usually ranked near the top in fuel consumption due to the amount of commuters, the area is too spread out to isolate one area for an arena other than downtown. Plus, it helps when the central location has scores of bars and music venues for pre-game and post-game festivities. It’s a great deal easier to get people travel to a game in Nashville, and not Lebanon.