Will hockey fans all over the league come back with the enthusiasm that they once had?
With the NHL lockout reaching the point of extreme frustration for fans, many have to decide whether or not to come back if a deal is ever struck. As negotiations continue in New York, a deal seems as promising as it has yet throughout this work stoppage. For some franchises though, it might be too late to retain their fans.
Throughout the lockout, fans have become disengaged with hockey. Some feel that the lockout is a joke; rich people arguing with richer people about ridiculous sums of money. Others wonder how a commissioner could run his sport into sports oblivion, not once, but twice during his reign. Some side with the owners (although, not many). Others side with the players (again, not many).
Regardless, what the fans want is an end to the work stoppage and for the winter warriors to lace up and play now.
Hockey needs to wake up and recognize that some of its franchises are in trouble and the only way to save them is to play the game.
This list will look at five franchises that will have trouble regaining fans once the lockout is broken.
Will fans like this young lady return to Panthers games next season?
The Florida Panthers are coming off of a banner season. They won the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. They played well in the NHL playoffs last season before succumbing to the Eastern Conference Champions, the New Jersey Devils, in Game 7. They have a good nucleus of players returning.
So, why are they on this list?
The Panthers are located in Sunrise, Florida, just outside of Miami. Fans in the Miami area are fickle; look at the Marlins and the Dolphins as primary examples. Fans forget recent success in the Miami area rather quickly (Marlins, University of Miami football).
In a "what have you done for me lately" society, the Panthers are going to have a difficult time recapturing fans who jumped on board during their magical run last season. The momentum has died from last season's results, and for a team that was only filling up their building to just over 86 percent capacity last season, that does not bode well post-lockout.
When you add in that the average ticket costs over $55, that might freeze out any potential newcomers looking to jump on the bandwagon.
Will fans return to root on a much-improved Stars team next season?
The Dallas Stars have a lot to look forward to on the ice this season. They have a rock-solid goalie, a decent defense and new additions up front that should help their scoring. The additions of Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney should have them knocking on the door of the playoffs this season.
Why wouldn't folks come back?
Dallas has always had trouble drawing fans. In a town and state that lives, breathes and eats football, hockey has always had a difficult time gaining traction. Last season, they only filled their building to just under 76 percent capacity. Over the past three years, their average attendance has dropped 15 percent overall.
If they were going to draw new fans and retain old stalwarts, they needed to capitalize on their offseason additions. The time for that to occur is now gone. Hopefully, the fans will return once the season begins and Dallas can capitalize on offering the lowest ticket prices in the NHL ($29.95 a game).
Ducks fans are cautiously optimistic about this upcoming season. Is that enough for them to come back?
The Anaheim Ducks will have a very difficult time making the playoffs this season unless they can get some secondary scoring and better defense out of a roster that includes some superstars, but is short on depth.
The L.A./Orange County area is saturated with things to do, including other sports franchises that people are more inclined to watch. It also hurts that their northern neighbor and chief division rival just hoisted the Stanley Cup on their doorstep.
The Ducks have only been averaging 85 percent capacity for the last three seasons. One issue is the cavernous building that they are playing in. The Honda Center is huge and not very intimate. The other issue is that because the team played below expectations last season, they might have a tough time making the playoffs in a very difficult and deep division.
One thing that may give them hope is the cheap ticket prices that they offer. They offer the third-lowest ticket price in the NHL at just under $37 a game.
If the Ducks can't bring back their fans in a fickle, front-running town, they may have to think about rebuilding their franchise by dealing some of their star players.
Will Blue Jackets fans return to support a poor product next season?
Columbus is rebuilding and has been for the past few years. Columbus is not a hockey town; it's a college football town. Columbus traded its best player for a slew of younger, average players. Add to that list that the average ticket price in Columbus is almost $48 a game in a blue-collar town. This does not bode well for the Blue Jackets.
These are all reasons why fans won't come back to the rink in 2012-13.
Columbus wasn't exactly lighting it up in fan support before the lockout, either. Their building was only filling to 80 percent capacity last season and 75 percent capacity the year before that.
The product is not good and the ticket prices are high in a town that would rather spend money going to Ohio State games.
With the White Out, Phoenix has one of the coolest fan events in sports. Will the fans come back once the puck drops?
The saddest story in all of sports is the Phoenix Coyotes.
- Product: Good—Pacific Division Champions
- Coaching: Unbelievably good—Dave Tippett has won the Jack Adams award
- Roster: Over-performing—Playing better than anticipated with some young, improving players
Why can't this town get behind their only consistent winning franchise? The Suns and D'Backs are down, the Cardinals are a roller coaster and Arizona State University is no good in football or basketball. The average price of a ticket is just over $36, the second-cheapest in the NHL.
Answer—they are in a non-hockey market with an ownership situation that borders on absurd. Potential owner Greg Jamison can't seem to figure out a way to finalize his deal to buy the team with the NHL and the City of Glendale.
The City of Glendale is seemingly looking to back out of the proposed deal with the Jamison group. The Mayor, Elaine Scruggs, has flip-flopped her position on keeping the Coyotes in Glendale. The NHL seems to have bigger things to deal with and can't hammer out a deal with the city, either.
Who gets hurt by all of this? The fans.
Yes, Phoenix does have its base of diehard fans. But, the numbers do not look good. Phoenix had the lowest attendance figures of any team in the league before the lockout. In 2011-12, their building was only filling to 72 percent capacity, or 12,421 fans per game. That number is generous, as their building seems to never be full unless it is playoff time and the White Out is brought into play.
I guess the better question is: Will the fans have something to go back to for the long term?
That remains to be answered. Phoenix is in limbo and if Jamison's deal gets scuttled, look for the team to relocate in the near future.