Kansas City had a brief fling with the NHL nearly 40 years ago, and has been on the expansion/relocation radar screen occasionally since.
Now, there is increased and renewed speculation that the city, again, is ready for the NHL, and the Phoenix Coyotes are mentioned prominently in future plans.
If the NHL, which owns the Coyotes and a potential buyer, has plans to move the team from the desert to the tumbleweeds of the Great Plains, the significant question remains: Will Kansas City support major league hockey?
It would appear the evidence is against a reasonable, long term, profitable stay.
To the credit of municipal officials, Kansas City is definitely arena-ready. The Sprint Center, located in downtown, opened in October, 2007. The facility can sit 19,000 for hockey and has 72 suites ready for occupation. The Big 12 college basketball tournament has been held there with success, but metro Kansas City fans are known to only support, with passion and numbers, the NFL Chiefs and Kansas Jayhawks basketball team.
The metro area encompasses 15 counties with a combined population of 2,035,334, according to the 2010 U.S. census. Kansas City, within city limits, contains a population of 441,545 and these numbers would seem to reasonably support a major league franchise.
Yet, a closer look at the baseball Royals may give a hint relative to potential support.
The Royals, perennially losers in the American League Central Division, routinely draw about 1.5 million fans per season. The last time they drew more than two million was 1991, with a gate of 2,161,577. The largest attendance in any one year since was 1994 when 1,934,578 pushed through the turnstiles at Kauffman Stadium.
When the Royals truly competed in the American League decades ago, they did attract a substantial crowd. From 1985 to 1991, they drew over two million annually. The same can be said from the years 1978 to 1980, and the latter year they went to the World Series and lost to the Phillies.
In recent times, there was a quasi-effort to move the Nashville Predators to Kansas City, but that failed. William “Boots” Del Biaggio III made the effort, but his plans fell through when Del Biaggio encountered legal problems over unpaid bills. That ended in a Chapter 11 filing, and as a result the books were closed on Del Biaggio’s effort to bring the NHL to the Kansas City.
The NHL did expand into Kansas City nearly 40 years ago, and that turned into a disaster. On the ice, the Kansas City Scouts were pitiful and relocated after only two seasons.
In their initial season of 1974-75, the Scouts went 15-54-11 for 41 standing points and sunk further the following season. In 1975-76, they managed only 12 wins and finished 12-56-12 for 36 points.
Quickly, the franchise packed it bags and headed for Denver. Known as the Colorado Rockies, the team stayed amid the Rocky Mountains from 1976 until the end of the 1982 season. Again, the franchise relocated, and this time, became the New Jersey Devils.
Fast forward to the present, and the prospect of an expanded or relocated team skating in Sprint Arena would not appear likely.
For all practical purposes, this is the final year of the Coyotes in the Phoenix market, and should they relocate, two possible venues are on the horizon. One would likely be Quebec City, where a new and NHL-ready arena is in the finishing stages of construction. The other possible location could be Hamilton, Ontario. For that to happen, the Leafs and the NHL would have to agree to settle territorial issues.
Then again, the New York metro area has three NHL teams, so there could be some area of compromise for the Leafs, Sabres and possibly the relocated Coyotes to all play nice together.
Recent buzz in the desert indicates that a few buyers have shown interest in acquiring the Coyotes and taking the team off the hands of the NHL. Issues involving a new lease at Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes home rink, and financing the project need to be resolved.
Should the Coyotes be unable to find a buyer within a reasonable time, or as a worst case scenario at the end of the up-coming season, Kansas City would appear as a less viable relocation option.
Then again, new owners may be blind to the Kansas City past and take a chance on the future.