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Article:Of Course the NHL Can Succeed in Phoenix and It Will. So Accept It Already!

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Sometimes it gets a little tiring hearing the same droning sports arguments chanted and regurgitated mindlessly: "Muhammad Ali was the greatest ever", "Derek Jeter is clutch", "Hockey can't succeed in warm weather cities".... ugh.

Let's address the third one... the other two assumptions are a proven waste of font.

Location, Location, Location

"Glendale isn't in the heart of Phoenix"...

No, but it's where the people live, work and play. One trip around the Loop 101 will give you a hint that the proximity of the arena is just fine. Nothing in Phoenix is that far away and people 'Out West' don't freak out about driving 20 miles the way the people "Back East" do... 20 miles of driving in Arizona is barely worth a yawn. Weather isn't a factor and all the roads are wide, flat and straight with beautiful mountains on the horizon many miles away. Twenty miles of driving in the Great Northeast is a nightmare of epic proportions. I understand that being raised in the Northeast and having lived in Arizona (and attending several Coyotes games) for 9 years. But apparently the people who chant the "NHL needs to leave the warm weather markets" arguments don't comprehend these simple logistics.

The Coyotes play their games next door to the Cardinals' stadium... no one clamors for the Cards to move any more... and yes, the Cards went almost 20 seasons without a blacked out home game not including the Cowboys or Steelers. 20 years. They played in a college stadium (Tempe Stadium) with aluminum bench seats in the hot sun. Arizona State was intelligent enough to host nearly ever game at night so people wouldn't burn their asses (Yes, even in November) but the NFL demanded that the Cardinals played their home games at 1pm or 2pm local (depending on when the rest of the world observed Daylight Savings Time). Yet, somehow - through mostly pigheaded stubbornness on behalf of the owners - the team "survived" 19 seasons with only ONE winning record and ONE playoff appearance.

I can't help but feel people who bitch about the NHL in Phoenix don't understand Phoenix's market at all. "Downtown" is not something that really exists in PHX. The societal 'action' in the evenings (when the Sun is no longer feeling like a microwave with the door open) is in Scottsdale, Tempe and Glendale. "Downtown" Phoenix - save for a D-Backs or Suns game is pretty much a ghost town after 5pm.

Phoenix is a town in the West, not like the Northeast U.S. or Canada. Things are more spread out. EVERY location is convenient...

Many people are discounting the basic fact that MOST of Phoenix's population (to a lesser extent places like Tampa and Miami) consists of transplants from very cold places (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New England, Canada... name it) and snowbirds. There's a reason WHY the NHL was brought there in the first place. The fans are there. Unfortunately - due to the local teams own missteps and undoings - these fans have found very little reason to leave their old allegiances behind for the Coyotes.

Teams in Florida (and Texas) also have a built in advantage over other American cities and far over Canadian cities for one simple reason: taxes. There's no personal income tax there.

I'd also be willing to bet a hefty sum that the metro area of Phoenix has a greater population than Winnipeg, Hamilton, Quebec, Regina, Seattle and Milwaukee (other places mentioned as possible re-location destinations) combined. Hell, Arizona has over 1/6th as many residents as all of Canada by itself.

Have you paid attention to Pro Sports for the last 100 years?

What's happening in Phoenix is sad but it's nothing new.

People used to say that football couldn't survive in small, warm-weather markets like Tampa or New Orleans. Take a look now.

Even dedicated hockey fans blatantly ignore the fact that the last pro sports franchise in the four major leagues to fold were those pesky Cleveland Barons of the NHL... just two short seasons before the NHL expanded.

Sure, Canada has some financial disadvantages compared to the U.S. plus the fact that Canada's entire population is smaller than New York and Pennsylvania combined despite there being a supposedly more "rabid" and passionate fanbase for the great sport of hockey. Canada also has a history of difficulty in keeping their sports franchises from drifting southward.

The NHL isn't the only victim of Professional Sports franchises taking their business elsewhere; please remember Sports IS a business. The CFL expanded in the 90's - with dramatic failure - into such football hotbeds as Las Vegas, Birmingham, Alabama and Sacramento, California. The NBA (a game originated by a Canadian) spent time in Vancouver before leaving for the rich, fertile metro area of ... Memphis? And no one needs to rehash the Colorado Nordiques and their two Stanley Cups to explain simply why pro sports businesses take their beloved Canadian heritages to the dirty, hated American markets.

Montreal didn't lose their baseball team because of a lack of fans. Montreal lost the Expos because of mismanagement (they traded every talent away and sold out their fans) and a sad mistake of a home stadium (build it, they will come)

Teams overcoming failure is why most people LOVE following sports

Sports History - fact and fiction - is full of stories about dismal teams with long odds climbing from the depths of putridity and disdain to triumph and reign supreme. From Hoosiers to Major League and to Chaminade over Virginia to the Bible's actual David and Goliath.

SunnyNHL

It seems not many NHL fans understand the value of "fair weather" fans. HINT - Pro Sports are NOT ALL ABOUT YOU, life-long die hards...

The New York Highlanders were a pathetic joke for their first 20 seasons until they changed their name to the Yankees and paid some dough for some lefty pitcher named George. The Dodgers were ten times more forlorn than the Clippers long before the NBA existed. The Dallas Cowboys were putrid for a decade before they turned the corner of Sucksville into 'America's Team'. The Detroit Red Wings suffered 4 1/2 decades of listlessness in a place called Hockeytown. The Phillies went 97 seasons before winning a World Series. People forget how the Boston Red Sox were afterthoughts and rarely sold out a home game at Fenway in the 80's and 90's before going nearly 5 years without a sellout in the 00's. The Atlanta Braves were a joke for two decades before running off a decade and a half of playoff appearances. Even the lowly Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series in their first winning season in franchise history.

The most glaring example of the recent past might be the Pittsburgh Penguins... a team that was bankrupt and doomed for extinction just a few short years ago. Oh yeah... they are the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.

Sometimes all it takes is luck. Like a #1 draft pick to turn the franchise around. More times it takes a lot of diligence, dedication and a philosophy of winning. Running a pro sports franchise is not easy and winning is even harder. It happens every season - only one team ends their season with a meaningful victory. The rest of the franchises have all essentially failed. It happens EVERY season.

Woe, Canada... Chill out!

Look, dear Canadians... I like you, I really do. But please don't let your love of hockey blind you from facing reality. take all things into consideration and you'll have a clearer picture of what is happening.

We aren't desecrating or sullying your game. We love it too! If you want to blame fan apathy on us (U.S.) you're only fooling yourself. Don't let your pride and over-protective arrogance degrade the game for others... Share the beauty of your game with the world and everyone benefits!

Take a look at the NHL over the last 15 or so years beyond expansion and relocation for just a second and realize there are other VERY simple factors that have affected the game more... three of which are very simple.

Hello? Lockout.

Fans are fickle and emotional with stubborn, long-term memories. The NFL, MLB and NBA have all suffered work stoppages that have ultimately improved their products by leaps and bounds but left many millions of narrow-minded fans heart-broken and hurt. The poor little babies can't see the forest for the saplings and act like ex-girlfriends scorned. Sometimes you must break a few eggs to cook breakfast - every stoppage made the game better but also hurt the trust and dedication of too many fans. The NHL took the nuclear option and destroyed a whole season...

What channel is the game on?

This is the beast that feeds itself... or eats its own tail - depending on your angle. The NHL is largely ignored in some circles simply because there's no real TV deal to provide the game to the masses - and thusly to the advertisers and marketers who thrive on said masses. TV hates partially empty arenas even more than you do. Attendance and TV play a dirty dance. Teams won't give the product at a reduced rate (paying the price of commercial hypnotism in your living room) if they can't sell their product to butter their bread first (butts in seats, apparel on bodies). It's a vicious cycle.

Then there's Versus and Comcast and the other battle to see who can strangle the sport faster... at the expense of the casual fans. Sure, the diehards will find a way to see their teams, but diehards aren't exactly the demographic most susceptible to commercial market share. They just want to watch the game. Businesses aren't in business for the sake of diehards, they need to expand market share constantly to grow and succeed. No business worth doing business succeeds only by saturating its existing customers. That is failure.

Let's go, Kryshwyuezqzkisjski!!!

Easily the biggest peeve I have with Canadians... you can't accept it's not just your game anymore (or even North America's game). Europeans have lots of ice, too. The influx of consonant-laden jerseys has attributed to fan apathy as much as anything. Successful Pro Sports are driven by stars. Stars are made through talent, production and accessibility to the masses. Stars need to transcend the illuminated and the ignorant fans. People LOVE to relate to their heroes - which is tough when they can't pronounce the guy's name. Foreign names "alienate" people... it's just how humans are by nature - we like to relate to people who are like us. When people can relate to the game's Stars, corporate sponsorships (and the loonies to pay the bills) will follow.

It's the same reason why many baseball fans aren't as passionate as they used to be - they don't speak Spanish or Japanese. Don't blame it on racism or ignorance... it's convenience - just like bashing Americans for not being just like Canadians. Face it, the shift has begun. As your sport succeeds amongst new populations, it will breed more success. The next "Great One" might be lacing up right now in muddy back-country hills of Tennessee, in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona or in a little, beat up rink in a place like Georgia... not necessarily the country of Georgia.

What is REALLY happening?

The Coyotes are suffering because of 1) Gross mismanagement including a STUPID stadium deal in Glendale they rushed into and 2) Poor talent evaluation, worse free agent signings and having a limp front office and subpar coach with a big ticket name (The Mediocre One) instead of a coach who could develop the team with a real philosophy, and 3) A long string of NOT winning.

The Coyotes are not a victim of bad location. They are not a victim of a lack of willing fans. They are not a victim of dispassionate fans. They are not a victim of Americans not understanding hockey.

They are a victim of themselves...

Give the new ownership a chance. A fresh start. The people who took over have succeeded in their own realms of business to understand the task at hand. They have to re-brand and re-establish a culture of sucktitude with success. It won't be easy - it never is. Get off your biases and be patient. The Rags to Riches stories in pro sports are what makes sports great. Not every franchise can be legendary all the time. Not every team can always be the crown jewel.

If you truly believe hockey is the great game it is, let them play! Jumbling franchises around from place to place simply because they aren't currently winning franchises HURTS the entire league for the sake of saving a tiny bit of face and spreading a profit margin slightly wider. It is a beautiful game. Be patient. Strong fanbases aren't built overnight. It takes patience, perseverance and most of all time for those kids and youngsters who grow up with the franchises to develop into the next generation of players, fans and lifelong diehards.

Team owners are Businessmen and Businessmen aren't stupid. They know how to succeed. They leave places like Winnipeg because they are seeking MORE success, not failure. If all factors are in place, a little luck falls the right way and smart, dedicated minds focus on the appropriate goals, an NHL team could succeed while playing their home games on the Moon.

It's 2010. We no longer live in a world where The Original Six makes sense - or dollars. Sure, the Winter Classic won't likely be held in Phoenix or Miami anytime soon, though the technology isn't too far out of the realm of possibility. But get over it, they CAN succeed. It's better for the sport if you support your entire league.

Let them play.


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