Why Southern Hockey Is Important to the NHL

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIMay 21, 2011

20,000 pack the St. pete Times Forum for Lightning Hockey.
20,000 pack the St. pete Times Forum for Lightning Hockey.

I expected the outcry of Canadians denouncing my article Atlanta Thrashers' Relocation to Winnipeg Is Bad for Southern Hockey.

Sure enough, I was right on.

Responses like "Southern hockey is bad for the NHL," "Southern hockey is an oxymoron" and "Was there ever a 'good' reason for southern hockey?" peppered the comments section.

The answer to the last question, yes.

For the NHL to survive as a major league, it needs its non-traditional markets.

Do you like that you can see the Steven Stamkos', Alex Ovechkins and Sidney Crosbys every night?

I know I do. But a more regional league (Northeast and Canada) will make it less profitable and those players will move overseas where they can play for leagues that can sustain those million dollar contracts.

It's all about TV market size and population growth.

The league is losing a market with six million people that is the eighth largest television market in the United States. It's going to a place that couldn't support their first NHL franchise (averaging just 13,500 a game), has no impact on the U.S. television dollar and a population of 700,000.

Yet many fans are cheering the abandonment of the Atlanta market for Winnipeg as "good for the league."

No, it's not.

As I tried to illustrate in my previous article, hockey needs time to become part of the culture in the south. As time passes, youth hockey continues to expand and the passion for the game is instilled, it will become just as important in the South as it is in the Northern communities, who've had the opportunity to watch the game for 60 or 70 years.

Strip all the non-tradition markets away...and what do you lose?

Dallas, the fifth largest TV market in the United States. (source: Station Index)

Atlanta is the eighth largest marker.

Phoenix is 12th.

Tampa Bay 13th.

Miami-Ft. Lauderdale is 16th.

These are millions of potential U.S. eyeballs that the NHL has used to negotiated their deals with Versus, NBC, ABC and ESPN.

They are also places with growing, flowing populations that attract people from Canada and the North because of their warmer climates. People with hockey already ingrained in their consciousness.

The Canadians view the Southern U.S. hockey fan as some Civil War reenactor looking for something to do between NASCAR races.

It isn't further from the truth. Many of those who attend hockey games in the south are Northern transplants with an extensive knowledge of the game and its history.

As the South continues to grow in appeal to Northerners, the NHL's ability to already have a presence and history in these communities is vital for its survival.

There's never been a question of who loves hockey more. We all know it's Canada's game.

But for the fiscal viability of the league, the non-traditional markets must be allowed to grow and survive or the NHL will be nothing more than the MLS, CFL or the Arena Football League and Sidney Crosby will be playing for millions in Russia or Sweden.